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MSU flower gardens test new varieties, conditions
BILOXI -- Many frustrated gardeners have noted how plants often look their best on retail shelves, but ongoing tests at Mississippi State University helps these gardeners figure out which flowers will meet expectations.
Gary Bachman, horticulturist with the MSU Extension Service at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi, said the university currently tests flower selections at two sites. Plans are underway to conduct flower variety testing at five locations around the state soon.
“Mississippi State is one of the organizations that companies across the country send plants to for testing,” Bachman said. “These selections are planted according to specific guidelines, and we follow strict criteria in evaluating the plants.”
Data collected from test sites is compiled to present an accurate picture of the plants’ performance in various settings. These carefully monitored experiments are called variety trials.
Information from variety trials is used to determine the best zones and conditions for the plants. It is also used to confer honors such as All-America Selection status or Mississippi Medallion winner.
Bachman said MSU has been conducting plant trials at Poplarville for the longest, and it has conducted variety trials at Crystal Springs for at least 37 years.
“The test site at the South Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Poplarville is designed more for commercial growers and is part of the All-America Selections system,” Bachman said. “The Truck Crops Branch Experiment Station at Crystal Springs is the home of the very popular Fall Flower and Garden Fest, and it is designed more for consumers.”
Both sites take in plants given to them by plant companies and evaluate them over the years. The Mississippi Medallion designations use data from both these MSU locations.
Bachman has a goal of establishing flower trial locations at each of the state’s four Research and Extension Centers and on MSU’s main campus in Starkville. These locations will cover the state’s four U.S. Department of Agriculture planting zones, which range from 9a on the Gulf Coast to 7b in north Mississippi. In addition to Poplarville and Biloxi, MSU has Research and Extension Centers in Verona and Raymond.
“This will give us some replicated data for how plants perform across Mississippi, and this information can be used anytime a plant is evaluated,” Bachman said.
In addition to gathering careful research data, these trial gardens give gardeners -- both professional and casual -- a chance to see the plants in action. Visitors can see firsthand how big plants get, what colors they produce in blooms, what their foliage looks like and even how the plants will look when grown in combination with others.
“Once we have trial gardens at MSU in Starkville and at the Research and Extension Centers in Verona, Crystal Springs, Biloxi and Poplarville, we’ll be able to trial all the same plants in each of these places in the same year,” Bachman said.
Guihong Bi, an associate research professor with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station in Crystal Springs, said the test sites help bridge the gaps between companies, producers and consumers.
“Throughout the year, a lot of people come here to visit our site, including commercial growers, company representatives and the public,” Bi said. “Over the years, I have seen growers take notes and use this information to schedule production and make an order once they have seen the plant in action.”
Those interested in seeing the variety trials at the Truck Crops Branch in Crystal Springs can come to the Mid-South Green Industry Conference in June or the Fall Flower and Garden Fest in October. In addition to these events, the trials are open to the public during regular business hours.
Those interested in seeing the variety trials at Poplarville can come to the Ornamental Horticulture Field Day in October or visit the station during business hours.
The Mississippi Medallion winners, which are named by the Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association, can be found online at http://www.msnla.org.