Events at Darwin Perennials and Walters Gardens, and Sticking Cuttings with a Robot?

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News and commentary for the perennial market GrowerTalks MagazineGreen Profit Magazine

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Paul Pilon Subscribe
Perennial Pulse

Perennials at Darwin
Perennial Day Video
Great Grower Day
Sticking Cuttings with Robots
Walters Gardens Perennials
Last Call
Fall Sales

Perennials at Darwin

In the last issue, I provided some coverage from my time at the 8th Annual Darwin Perennials Day, which was held in West Chicago on June 21. Believe me when I say how difficult it was to narrow down the number of perennials I could share with you in the last newsletter. Here are a few more perennials I thought you’d enjoy seeing:

Coreopsis UpTick Gold & Bronze


Since seeing UpTick Gold & Bronze at Spring Trials a couple years ago, I’ve become incredibly fond of this bright, cheerful coreopsis. UpTick Gold & Bronze has large, nearly 3-in. yellow flowers with dark reddish centers. This interspecific hybrid from Darwin Perennials is day neutral and blooms and blooms and blooms. It’s definitely worth checking out if you haven’t tried it yet. Hardy to Zone 5.

Echinacea Sombrero Sangrita


Sangrita is a recent addition to the Sombrero series of echinacea from Darwin Perennials. It develops eye-catching scarlet-red flower petals surrounding burgundy cones (also has attractive burgundy stems). Like the other Sombrero cultivars, Sangrita is well branched and compact, reaching just 24-in. tall when blooming. This great new red cultivar is hardy to Zone 4 and has tons of potential.

Nepeta Purrsian Blue


Here’s one of my favorite nepeta cultivars. Purrsian Blue from Walters Gardens has a tidy 18-in. habit and is completely covered with periwinkle blue flowers in the mid-summer. This tough deer-resistant perennial is hardy to Zone 3. This might be the purrfect perennial for you.

Salvia Arctic Blaze Fuchsia


Arctic Blaze Fuchsia is a great new introduction from Star Roses & Plants. Although, it's only hardy to Zone 6, this salvia has tons of potential for those of you who can grow it. Arctic Blaze Fuchsia has hot pink blooms, is very floriferous and grows 24-in. tall. Sure to set the landscape or retail displays ablaze with color.

Perennial Day Video

Here’s an 11-minute video produced by my Ball Publishing colleagues Chris Beytes and Jen Zurko covering the event. If you weren’t able to attend, it’ll give you a general overview and includes coverage of several perennials from Ball’s own Global Product Manager for Darwin Perennials, Karl Batschke. Heck, you might even enjoy the video even if you were in attendance. Click here or on the image above to watch the video.

If you like what you saw in person or in this video, be sure to mark your calendar for next summer’s Darwin Perennials Day on Wednesday, June 20, 2018. No worries if you don’t have a 2018 calendar handy, I’ll provide you with a reminder or two between now and then.

Great Grower Day

Next stop, Walters Gardens. Walters Gardens hosted their own perennial day titled, Great Grower Day 2017 on Thursday, June 28, 2017. It was much smaller than the Darwin event mentioned above, but was packed full of knowledge, networking opportunities and, of course, lots of great perennials. Here are a couple highlights I’d like to pass on: 

Sticking Cuttings with Robots

Dr. Paul Fisher from the University of Florida was the keynote speaker. Paul gave a great presentation on "Sticking Cuttings Efficiently – By Hand and by Robot." He covered very specific output and costing information on the ISO Robot and the AutoStix systems. These automated systems can stick between 2,000 and 7,500 cuttings per hour, respectively. (Chris Beytes wrote about both the ISO machine and AutoStix in GrowerTalks.)

As you can imagine, these systems have a hefty price tag, in the tune of $125,000.00 each, but are they worth it? The take-home message I heard was that they may not be as cost-effective for all propagators. With the huge peak sticking weeks many growers have combined with the extended down periods throughout the year, these systems would have a very long payback time (greater than five years) for most propagators. For these reasons, manually sticking is still often less costly than using automation.

Cost Comparison

Manually Sticking
732 cuttings per hour
Estimated cost per cutting: $0.016

ISO Robot
2,000 cuttings per hour
Estimated cost per cutting: $0.012

Where automation pays:

  •  When sticking cuttings throughout the entire year
  •  When using multiple shifts each day
  •  When sticking large runs of the same item (less changeover time)
  •  When labor is limited or is very costly

Challenges with automation:

  •  Cuttings with thin stems
  •  Cuttings with basal leaves (near the bottom of the cutting)
  •  Cuttings without clearly defined stems
  •  Very large cuttings
  •  Also, can’t currently double stick cuttings into the same cells

Let me know if you're one of the few to use these robots or if you have any perspectives not covered in Dr. Fisher's presentation.

Walters Gardens Perennials

In addition to Paul Fisher’s keynote presentation, he also gave an afternoon session on "New Research to Improve Fertilization and Water Treatment." Other presentations by Walters Gardens staff covered "Summer Perennials, New Varieties and Hostas and Ornamental Grasses." Proven Winners marketing guru Marshall Dirks discussed "Trends for 2017."

I couldn’t attend this event without passing along a few perennials that stood out to me. 

Anemone Curtain Call Pink


What’s the best way to end the perennial season in the fall? With Anemone Curtain Call Pink, of course. This will be one of the last splashes of perennial color the landscape will have in the fall. Bright rose pink flowers develop in the late summer or early fall. With its double rows of flower petals, it’ll appear fuller than the single flower types. It has a compact 18-in. growth habit and is hardy to Zone 5. Don’t miss the last call for Curtain Call Pink.

Dianthus Fruit Punch Raspberry Ruffles


The large, double raspberry pink flowers with razor thin white edges drew me in. How large? I’m talking 1¾-in. florist-quality blooms. Not only are the flowers awesome, it has very attractive polished blue-green foliage. The flowers don’t fade and it reblooms again when deadheaded. Raspberry Ruffles from Proven Winners is absolutely beautiful. Hardy to Zone 4.

Phlox paniculata Glamour Girl


Glamourous indeed is Glamour Girl. She dresses cleanly with her bright green, mildew-resistant foliage, then she shows off her colors in the mid-summer. Glamour Girl has large panicles of glowing hot coral pink, fragrant flowers on dark stems. Glamour Girl can be enjoyed all the way to Zone 3. Unlike many of the new garden phlox cultivars to hit the market in recent years, she’s a tall one -- growing to 32 in. Definitely a showstopper!

Sedum Frosted Fire


Frosted Fire is a variegated sport of Autumn Fire that has very attractive light green leaves with creamy yellow, serrated margins. It forms a dense upright mound reaching just 12 to 15 in. The brightly colored, rosy red flower heads open in the late summer and early fall. This Zone 3 perennial appears to be a frontrunner when it comes to variegated sedum cultivars. 

Last Call

There's still a little time to register and attend two of our industries premier events.


AmericanHort’s Cultivate’17 in Columbus, Ohio, is just around the corner (literally, it starts this weekend). It’s being held at the Columbus Convention Center on July 15 - 18, 2017. Come join over 10,000 of your peers, visit over 800 trade show exhibitors and attend one or more of the 140+ educational seminars.

Click here to learn more and to register for this great event.

Perennial Symposium

It’ll be here before you know it. The Perennial Plant Association’s 35th Annual Perennial Plant Symposium and Trade Show is being hosted in Denver, Colorado, on July 23-28, 2017.  The Symposium is packed full of expert presenters, great tours and lots of networking opportunities.  Learn more about this year’s Perennial Plant Symposium and register online at

I’ll be at both of these events this month, so I hope to see you there. 

Fall Sales

I received this question from one of our loyal Perennial Pulse subscribers and thought I’d ask you for your input. Here’s his question:

I'd be interested in hearing from retailers why perennials in color in fall seem to sell sluggishly. Ten to 15 years ago, I was merchandizing coreopsis, perovskia, echinacea, etc. in full bloom in prime retail space in September and sales were poor. At that time, it was a price/value issue ($4 for a 2-gallon-ish mum vs. $8 for a 1-gal. perennial). My perception is that mums and asters, etc. are too cheap, and while a perennial is a better long-term value, the customer is more often decorating than gardening ... long-term value doesn't factor into the equation.

What do others think?

I’d be interested in hearing what you think and covering this subject in more detail in future newsletters. Please email me with your comments, impressions of fall sales and, more importantly, ideas on how we can all improve the sales of perennials without steeply discounting them. Send your responses to

I hope you enjoyed reading this edition of Perennial Pulse. Feel free to email me sometime with an update of your season, article ideas ( or just to say hello.

Thanks for reading.

Take care,

Paul Pilon
Perennial Pulse

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