Cornell Annual Trials Program

By on May 6, 2019
A top performer based on bi-weekly ratings from the 2018 Cornell Annual Trials Program: French Marigold, Bonanza Flame, from Pan-American Seed. Photo courtesy of

A top performer based on bi-weekly ratings from the 2018 Cornell Annual Trials Program: French Marigold, Bonanza Flame, from Pan-American Seed. Photo courtesy of

If you are looking for inspiration as you plan this year’s garden, you may want to check out the Cornell Annual Trials Program. The purpose of the program, according to Cornell, is to evaluate the performance of various annual ornamental flower and foliage plant cultivars under the unique environmental conditions in Ithaca, NY – USDA Hardiness Zone 5b/6a – similar growing conditions to what most of us have here in Monroe, Genesee and Orleans counties.

Plant material is sent to Cornell either as seed or as rooted cuttings and is grown in the Cornell greenhouses until ready for transplanting. Following planting, cultivars are evaluated every two weeks. Data collected is summarized and sent back to participating breeding companies for use in determining future breeding priorities or to provide growing information to local distributors.

The trial gardens additionally provide a living classroom for students, teachers, extension educators, and the public. Visitors are welcome at the trial gardens!

Cornell describes the details of the trial process as follows: Seed starting can begin as early as February. Rooted cuttings arrive early in April and are transplanted into four-inch pots. While in the greenhouse, plants are given fertilizer and appropriate care to maintain desirable growth habits. Bed preparation is done in May and all-purpose, slow-release fertilizer is added to the soil. Cornell plants the first week of June to help prevent frost damage. During the growing season, plants receive fertilizer once each week and beds are weeded as necessary.

Cornell works to keep garden conditions close to that of a typical homeowner, so normal maintenance is provided including deadheading – but care is minimal. Every two weeks, cultivars are photographed and evaluated for uniformity, flowering impact, foliage appearance and overall landscape value. The trial manager summarizes the data at the end of the season and sends information back to participating companies.

The exciting news this year, is that the Trials Program will have a new home – on grounds adjacent to the Nevin Welcome Center at the Cornell Botanic Gardens. This move onto campus will make it easier for the public to visit the trials during the growing season.

Cornell posts top performers of yearly trials on its blog, which can be a great place to see which annual varieties did best in the previous year’s trials. Go to to explore.

Now to finish with a shameless plug – Orleans County Master Gardeners are planning a chartered bus trip to the Cornell Botanic Gardens on Saturday, June 29. Consider joining them if you would like to check out the new home of the Trials Program in person and would rather not make the two-hour drive to Ithaca on your own. The bus will leave the Orleans County 4-H Fairgrounds that morning and there will be a guided tour of the Botanic Gardens at Cornell as well as a catered lunch on the grounds. A stretch and stop in Canandaigua is planned for the trip back home. More information and registration is available by calling Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension at 798-4265.