July 3, 2020
Trial Garden program sees major expansion in 2020
Lillian Jojart checks in on the new container trial.
By Rodger Tschanz
Trial Garden Manager

The 2020 edition of the University of Guelph’s trial garden season will take place despite Covid-19. The trials at the Landscape Ontario site in Milton, Ont., have expanded dramatically this year, with the introduction of a container trial, a pollinator evaluation garden, and a large, herbaceous perennial trial. All this has been added to the ongoing annual landscape trial and ideas garden.

Large three-year perennial trial

In the past, the trial beds have always included a small selection of perennials, but what makes this year so different is the scale of that trial. At least 10 plants of each entry have been planted with consistent spacing and cultural care to be given within a species. Similar species from different breeders have been planted alongside each other to make comparisons easy. Over 140 perennials have been entered for the 2020 planting year, with the intent that the plants will be evaluated for three consecutive growing seasons.

Participating breeders and suppliers for this perennial trial include: Proven Winners, Darwin Perennials, Kieft Seeds, Benary, Jelitto Seed, Pacific Plug and Liner, Takii Europe and ThinkPlants.

The species selection in the trial is quite diverse, but the larger genera groups include: hibiscus, salvia, coreopsis, achillea, echinacea, delphinium, sedum, baptisia and phlox. The mode of propagation for this trial is diverse as well, with entries arriving as seed, unrooted cuttings, liners or bare root. The floral presentation in the first year of planting could differ because of propagation method, but all varieties will be established, and on the same seasonal cycle in the second year.

two students looking at plants for pollinatiorsOMAFRA summer students, Michael Boucher and Famke Alberts on the lookout for pollinators.

Pollinator research

The pollinator evaluation garden at the site is a continuation of some work done in previous seasons at the main Trial Garden site in Guelph, Ont. Sarah Jandricic, an entomologist from Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), based in Vineland, has worked with the Guelph Trial Garden program to evaluate the number and variety of pollinator visits to some of the more commonly grown horticultural pollinator plants — both exotics and nativars. The new trial site in Milton for this evaluation includes floral plantings that are randomized and replicated, to help draw some strong conclusions from the behaviour of wild populations of pollinators.

Container trial

The large container trial at the LO site is also new this year. With building construction at the site completed, it has been possible to install a container trial adjacent to the new building. This trial replaces one that used to be housed at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. Since container-grown ornamentals have widespread use in urban areas, it is important to include container evaluations in the trial program. Since ornamentals grow differently in containers than in the landscape, it’s also important to trial the plants under these different growing regimes. Combined container and landscape trials are taking place at both the Guelph and Milton sites throughout the 2020 growing season.

people planting a flower bedRodger Tschanz, trial garden manager (standing), gets planting help from Sam Wilson, Jessica Tan and Francis Jabile.

Landscape trials

The usual landscape trials will continue at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute (GTI) and at LO, with a smaller trial continuing at the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) in Burlington, Ont. The Guelph site will continue to host the All-America Selections ornamental seed judging trial. This will be the last year for the Guelph Trial Garden at its original location at GTI, as it will be moving to its new location in the fall of 2020 and the Trial Garden will follow. It is anticipated the new trial garden beds will be constructed in the fall of 2020, to allow them to stabilize and be ready for planting the following spring.

Open house

The final stages of planting took place in mid-June as this article was written. Due to the uncertainty around larger public gatherings due to the Covid-19 pandemic, details about this year’s open house (whether virtual or at the sites) in Milton and Guelph are not available at this time and will be communicated to industry in late July or early August.

The LO site is always open during business hours; green professionals and homeowners alike are invited to enjoy the well-labelled gardens any time.