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Where Did That Come From?

Ever wonder how new plant varieties show up at your local garden center each year? Read this article to learn


Contributors: Kerry Meyer

Every year when you walk into your favorite garden center you are met with benches overflowing with plants.
Many of these plants are old favorites but there is always something new and exciting too. Have you ever wondered how exactly plants are chosen to become Proven Winners and where those plants come from? Well, I’m going to tell you about this process that results in your garden center having an ever-expanding array of plant material for you to choose from.

There are 3 main ways new plants are developed

  • First, a plant breeder can develop the new variety
  • Second, a grower or gardener finds a natural mutation or hybrid growing in
    their greenhouse or garden.
  • Third, a plant explorer collects a totally new plant from the wild.

 Tissue Culture lab used to maintain disease free plants.

While it is possible that we would get plants by all three methods the majority of our new plants are developed by plant breeders. Plant breeders are the people that actually develop the new varieties. They choose the plant species that have good garden application and then they find plants to use as parents. The parent plants can be existing varieties, plants collected from the wild, or seedlings that were grown by the breeder. The breeders mix and match the parent plants, pollinate the flowers, harvest the seed that results from breeding the plants together, and grow the seedlings.

The best seedlings are chosen by the plant breeder and they then begin to trial the plants to make sure they have good performance. From the time the breeder chooses the parents to the time he feels like he might have a plant that would be garden worthy is a minimum of 2 years and more likely is 3 to 5 years.

Proven Winners work with plant breeders from all over the world including Japan, Germany, Holland, Australia and the U.S. as well as other areas. Some of these breeders work for large companies and some of them breed flowers in their back yard but none of them work for Proven Winners directly. Once the plant breeder has a new variety that they feel is garden worthy, the plant is given to Proven Winners to trial.

Proven Winners trials all new plants for at least 2 years and sometimes longer. We grow the plants in greenhouses and in the ground and pots outside. We look at how the plants perform in various environments, focusing on flower character stability including number, color, and size of the flowers. Other traits we evaluate include habit, size, and cold and heat tolerance. Trials are conducted at 4 sites in the U.S (east coast, west coast, mid-west, and the deep south), Japan, and Germany. Those plants that perform well in all locations are considered as additions to our Proven Winners line.

One of Proven Winners hanging baskets trial areas.

Once we decide that a plant is going to become a Proven Winner it is then an additional 1 ½ years before you can buy the plant in the garden center. We need this time to allow us to do things like name the variety, write up the culture and production information, ramp-up production so that we have plant material to send to the greenhouse growers, communicate with growers so they know what new material we have, get orders from the growers, and then the greenhouses across the United States need time to grow the plants and distribute them to the garden center where you can buy them. We also use this time to patent the plants and trademark their names.

In general it takes between 10 and 16 weeks for a plant to be started as a cutting and then be grown into saleable size that it can be sent to the retailer where you buy the plant. It takes a long time for an idea to be conceived for a new variety for the development to happen and then for you to buy the variety. Generally, it takes at least 6 years, and more likely 7 or more, for a variety to be sold to the consumer for the first time.

It takes a lot of time and talent to develop new varieties and for every plant introduced more that 7000 have been discarded, this process isn't cheap. You might wonder how the plant breeder makes their money. Well, above I mentioned that we patent each new variety. The patent means that growers must pay a royalty to the plant breeder for each plant they grow. This royalty pays the plant breeder for their work. The more popular the variety is the more money the plant breeder makes. How much is this royalty? Well for each plant it is pretty small and varies from plant to plant. Royalties tend to run from a few pennies to perhaps as much as a quarter per plant on patented perennials and shrubs. So it takes a lot of plants being sold for the plant breeder to make much money.

The next time you are in the garden center admiring all of the great plants remember somewhere a man or woman worked and waited for 6 or more years to see their "baby" available in the garden center. The passion plant breeders have for providing the most beautiful and productive plants possible means that your garden will continue to burst into bloom year after year.

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Japan - seedlings growing in trial beds. Proven Winners Snow Princess® shown on left is trialed with other brands.
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