While topics of new chemistries, technology and equipment are popular points of discussion in the green industry, the truth is, “The cleanest greenhouses are practicing careful sanitation,” says Jen Browning, a BASF technical services representative. Coupled with proper applications and updated tools, keeping a clean house will be your best bet to thwart damaging diseases. Here are 5 tips for success:
1. Ensure your cuttings are healthy.
When you source your cuttings from a supplier, confirm that you’re receiving disease-free material, Browning says. “That’s a huge source of disease coming in right at the start of propagation, then staying in production the entire [growing] cycle,” she adds. As an extra precaution, you can quarantine suspect batches of cuttings by separating them out from your main production area.
2. Store media properly.
If you know your media will be in storage for a period of time before it’s used, make sure you keep it sealed and protected outside the greenhouse and away from the elements. “Sometimes media will get opened and dumped into bins where it’ll be fed into planting machines, so that leaves it very exposed,” Browning says. “If it sits that way over, say, two weeks in an open planting shed, you will have wind and air bringing in all kinds of pests,” she adds.
3. Keep clean containers.
As you pull plants out of containers that will be reused, gather those containers in one place and sanitize them before placing them back into rotation, Browning says. “With equipment, timing really helps – so schedule regular times to clean equipment and sanitize planting areas and tools,” she adds. Browning also notes that you’ll want to implement more frequent cleaning with smaller items and hand tools, such as cutting instruments or grafting blades, that come into contact with plants more often.
4. Manage plant waste.
Weeds under benches, in walkways and throughout other areas of the greenhouse harbor weed seed, and may also act as a reservoir of insects, mites or diseases, Browning says. Additionally, plants that are pulled for not meeting quality standards can also present a danger to plants in production if they’re left to linger.
When you’re throwing plants out, place them in a sealed container or bag, she suggests. “Some places will use a regular residential trash can with a lid on it, and that’s fine, but it needs to be removed from the greenhouse and emptied on a regular basis because people will forget and leave the lid off,” she says.
5. Control the greenhouse’s foot traffic.People can also be vectors, carrying pests like spores and weed seeds from clothes or shoes to equipment to plants. Depending on the type of crop you’re producing, you may want to have guests step through a wind block or wear protective clothing/footwear before entering the greenhouse. While it’s much more prevalent in produce greenhouses, “You also see it in places where tropicals and foliage are produced – often those that are from tissue culture, like orchids,” Browning says, as plants from tissue culture are very susceptible to infection and predation by insects.