Barb Laschkewitsch is a busy woman. As a trial garden manager for North Dakota State University’s (NDSU) Horticulture Research and Demonstration Garden, she’s busy sowing thousands of annual flowers in a 1950s-era campus greenhouse.
Once the danger of frost has passed, colorful flowering plants will grace the campus garden this summer at the corner of 12th Avenue and 18th Street North in Fargo.
This garden is more than a pretty place to see flowers. Laschkewitsch engages in research for the benefit of home gardeners and the retail industry. She seeds and transplants more than 200 cultivars as part of a research project to identify annuals that will thrive in the region’s soils and summer climate.
Laschkewitsch says: “The results of our research are intended to help home gardeners select the best performing annual flowers when they visit their garden center in the spring. More importantly, we want to help consumers avoid wasting money on cultivars that are doing poorly in our area.
The research process starts early. Lisianthus, a notoriously difficult cut flower to grow, is sown in late December. Small-seeded crops such as begonia and geranium are sown in mid-January and early February respectively. Petunias and snapdragons are easier to grow and are planted in March. Finally, fast-growing annuals such as marigold and zinnia are sown in April.
NDSU Extension master gardeners help transplant annuals into the garden in early June. After a period of establishment, Laschkewitsch then assesses the flowering, uniformity and vigor of the plants in early August and September.
At the end of the season, she publishes a detailed test report and recommends the best artists of that year. With the heat and drought of 2021, warm season genera such as vinca (Catharanthus) and Celosia had several top performing cultivars.
Vinca grows well in warm, dry locations and several cultivars in the Mega Bloom series have been the stars of the midsummer garden. The Celosia argentea cultivar, Asian Garden, with its wheat-like pink spikes, is a very reliable performer in campus gardens. New cultivars, Sol Gekko Green and Sol Lizzard Leaf add a new dimension with colorful foliage.
Salvia farinacea cultivar Evolution, with its purple flower spikes, was the best mealy sage of 2021. Of the zinnias tested, Whirligig and Zinderella Orange reached the top.
Most of the flowers that Laschkewitsch plants and evaluates are All-America Selections (AAS) winners, and the campus garden is considered an official show garden. The AAS organization evaluates new and improved flowers to identify superior cultivars that have been tested in a variety of locations across the country.
Laschkewitsch found that not all AAS winners thrive in the northern Great Plains. Recent winners that have not done well in campus gardens include the Penstemon Twizzle Purple cultivar and the Gypsophila Gypsy White Improved cultivar.
To download Laschkewitsch cultivar ratings and best performance, visit: https://www.ndsu.edu/agriculture/academics/academic-units/plant-sciences/research/horticulture-research-demonstration-gardens