The new ‘Roller Coaster Hot Pink’ New Guinea Impatiens from Dümmen Orange features beautiful double flowers atop dark-green foliage. It’s a vigorous plant with outstanding garden performance. This flower is an excellent choice for late spring and early summer, for larger container sales and for premium dollars at retail.
Plants, people & displays at TPIE 2019
Features - Events
Interesting plants and creative displays were showcased at the annual event in Fort Lauderdale.
As many growers and garden center retailers can attest, houseplants and tropicals are having a moment, and that excitement was apparent at the 2019 Tropical Plant International Expo.“There is electricity in the air, and it’s an optimistic show,” says Jared Hughes, owner of Groovy Plants Ranch based in Marengo, Ohio. “People are excited.” TPIE, which featured 400 exhibitors and 6,488 attendees, took place Jan. 16 to Jan. 18 at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Theresa Riley, owner of Rockledge Gardens in Rockledge, Florida, served on the TPIE committee for several years, and said the 2019 show was a standout. “I really think this year is one of the best I remember in a very long time! Lots of positive vibes and buzz,” she says. We spotted interesting plants, festive people and creative displays on the show floor. Here are just a few highlights.
The Corso’s Perennials general manager discusses what he learned while working for Dümmen Orange, why he wanted to return to growing and what the industry could do better to entice young professionals.
After graduating from The Ohio State University in 2016 with a degree in horticulture and a minor in agribusiness, Tanner Cole spent two-plus years working for Dümmen Orange in marketing. But in 2018, Cole left the breeder to work as the new general manager at Corso’s Perennials in Sandusky, Ohio. It’s a move that he says excites him because it gets him working directly with plants again.
Greenhouse Management: What about growing specifically made it something you wanted to come back to?
Tanner Cole: I’m a plant geek at heart — a total nerd when it comes to horticulture. When you work for a plant breeder, there is no shortage of administrative, logistical and business items to distract your focus away from the horticultural magic of plants and flowers. With Corso’s, it gives me the opportunity to get even more hands-on experience with the plants, get back in the greenhouse a bit more, and get back to my roots — pun intended.
GM: What do you feel like you can take from your time working at Dümmen Orange and apply to your work at Corso’s?
TC: Without a doubt, Dümmen [Orange] has some incredibly competent, intelligent and accomplished individuals on their payroll. In my time there, I was privy to the knowledge of those individuals and I definitely used that to my advantage. Dümmen Orange launched my career, there’s no denying that. Specifically, I think Dümmen [Orange] does a great job managing enormous projects like acquiring a broker, or building the most elite archive facility in the world, just to name a few examples. They take those projects and divide, delegate and shepherd them from vague concepts to concrete realities. [In] my two and a half years there, [I] saw significant involvement in similarly massive projects, and without that experience under my belt, I’d be hard-pressed to move along some of the large projects I’ve been working on at Corso’s as quickly as I have.
GM: Has the industry done a good job of enticing younger people to make horticulture a career?
TC: I don’t think the industry has done a particularly good job of enticing youthful people. I think it partially boils down to economics. If you go to a good educational institution — let’s say a land-grant university like Ohio State or others — and pay $15,000, $20,000 a year to graduate and make $25,000 starting out, there’s something with that math that doesn’t quite add up, right? I think collectively as employers, we haven’t done a good job of realizing the economic reality of our young-talent problem. Simultaneously, we are always talking about labor scarcity and cutting labor costs, so there is a balance to be found. But I also think some academic institutions have done a poor job of preparing horticulture students for the actual industry. In certain regards, when I graduated [from Ohio State], I was surprised at how much I didn’t know about the industry as whole. I knew a lot about plants. But I didn’t really understand the distribution chain, the importance of effective logistics or the impact of cannabis on the industry. As a young person myself, I’m trying to champion young people. I’m trying to draw people into Sandusky. There’s this stereotype that Millennials only want to live in cities and will never appreciate horticulture as much as generations before us — I don’t think that’s the case whatsoever. We just need to tout the benefits that our industry has to offer.
Perennial production insights
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Two experts give their insight into how the perennial market is changing for both producers and consumers.
For growers across the U.S. and Canada, fruitful perennial plant production requires both precise planning and keeping up to date with the latest trends. According to two experts, that can involve adapting their growing strategy and knowing what plants customers are looking for.
Two key changes in growing strategy
Karl Batschke, the global project manager for Darwin Perennials, says the way growers are producing perennials is shifting in two areas. The first is that many growers are sourcing young plants differently. According to Batschke, some are relying less on third-party sourcing, and instead using unrooted cuttings more frequently because of a lack of consistent availability of young plants.
“Growers can bring in unrooted cuttings, propagate [them] and have success themselves,” Batschke says. He adds that pricing pressure — especially from big box stores — is lowering margins across the supply chain.
Secondly, Batschke says that some growers are changing when they are growing perennials to avoid issues caused by inclement weather. Historically, he says, perennial growers will plant a 72-cell liner in August. Now, he says some are creating their own 21-cell liner in the winter in a more controlled environment with heat. The benefit, Batschke says, is that growers can worry about weather-related issues for six to eight weeks instead of several months.
“It’s the biggest game changer in the perennial world,” he says.
Perennial market trends
Bob Blew, the vice president of Centerton Nursery in Bridgeton, New Jersey, says the nursery sells exclusively to independent garden centers (IGCs). According to Blew, one of the most popular plants on the market right now is one that has been trending for the past several years.
“Believe it or not, echinacea are a pretty strong segment of the market,” he says. “I’m not sure its market share is growing as much as it was five or six years ago. But five or six years ago, everyone was asking, ‘Well, what’s the next echinacea?’ and [now], that plant is still driving a lot of summertime sales.” Blew says the echinacea has maintained its status because it’s easy for consumers to care for and the bright colors bred into it draw people in.
“We’ve also seen a bit of a push towards natives,” he says. “You can fly the native flag with echinacea. And we’ve seen a push towards succulents. It’s largely the same thing as with echinacea — there are great colors and they are fairly low care.”
As he looks ahead toward the next perennial market drivers, Blew monitors the latest trends. He says that when he talks to IGCs, the latest introductions are what generate increased sales.
“If one is slightly improved and new, we know we can sell it because it is new,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what the plant is.”
Blew is also eyeing current color trends. Among his top-20 selling perennials in the last year, he says most are utilitarian plants for landscapes. Purple or lavender are the most popular colors, and vivid colors currently outshine pastels. He also says the 2019 Pantone Color of the Year, Living Coral, “hits the nail on the head” as far as what consumers want.
There’s just one problem: It’s not a widely available color.
“It’s a color that, outside of a couple roses we grow, is really hard to come by,” Blew says. “It’s a color that’s not found as much in nature. A lot of plants flirt with that color, but don’t quite get there.”
What makes a successful perennial grower in 2019
Growers are setting themselves up for success, Batschke says, when they know which plants they can propagate themselves and which plants they need to source from a third party are setting themselves up for success.
“They have kind of a hybrid system,” he says. “They leave the more specialist items to the professional propagators, and [the growers will] do the easy stuff [in house]. It’s not an all-or-nothing thing, but I see a lot of really big growers relying on professional propagators when they know they’ll struggle with [certain plants].”
Batschke says one of the common plants growers leave to the propagators is dianthus; its unrooted cuttings have a one-year quarantine period upon entering the United States. Other crops often purchased through third-party suppliers are tissue-culture-raised products such as echinacea and hostas. Examples of products that growers may have more success propagating themselves are groundcovers such as phlox and sedum.
“Those products are some of the lowest-margin items,” Batschke says. “By doing it themselves, growers save money.”
And if growers can save money and get customers the perennials they want, then everyone wins.
Recirculating irrigation water is a method that can reduce runoff and soil pollution. Instead of letting the leachate drip from the benches or ground beds into the soil, the water is collected, stored and recirculated at the next watering.
Besides the benefit of reducing runoff, there are several other advantages to subirrigation:
Less labor. Most of the time needed for setup and operation of an irrigation system is eliminated.
Uniform plant growth. Every plant gets the amount of water it needs.
Less water is needed. A savings of 50 percent or more can be realized.
Less fertilizer is needed. Without leaching, fertilizer rates can be reduced 25 to 50 percent.
Lower humidity. Because the leaves remain dry, there is less evaporation.
Lower prevalence of diseases. As there is little water movement between containers, the spread of disease is limited.
Increased space efficiency. Tray and floor systems containers can be spaced more efficiently.
Challenges to ebb and flood irrigation include:
Greater system cost. Depending on the system, cost can be $10 to $20/square feet of growing area.
Learning curve. Production techniques are different than conventional production.
Greater monitoring of irrigation solution. Both EC and pH must be monitored on a regular basis.
In addition to the troughs, benches or flood floors, the basic system contains tanks to collect and hold the water or nutrient solution, pumps and piping to move the water and a control system that regulates when the system is to operate and for how long. Concrete or polyethylene tanks are sized at ½ to 1-gallon capacity/square foot of growing area. Two or more tanks are usually installed to have storage for water and nutrient solutions. PVC pipe and fittings give good service for handling the water or solution. Stainless steel centrifugal pumps are used to handle the nutrient solution and a filter is installed to screen out materials such as growing mix and leaves, timers or a controller are needed to adjust the length of time the pumps operate.
Trough system: This system allows the use of existing benches, therefore reducing cost. PVC or aluminum troughs that are wide enough for the pots to sit in are placed on the benches. Benches are adjusted to provide a slight slope so the water drains from the supply to the discharge end. Water is pumped from the reservoir tank under the benches to the high end of the troughs. A cross gutter at the discharge end collects the water and piping carries it back to the holding tank. Water from the holding tank is then pumped to the reservoir tank, thus the closed system. Trough systems can also be suspended from overhead trusses to gain additional growing space.
Ebb and flood on benches: In this system, the benches remain level and plastic liners are inserted to contain the water. Water from a reservoir is pumped through a two-way valve to the bench. When the level of water reaches ½ inch to 1 inch and the growing media in the containers has absorbed as much as needed, the valve reverses and the remaining water is siphoned out. Partial saturation by restricting the time water is left in the bench can reduce the need for growth regulator chemicals.
Flood floors: Flood floors are becoming popular for growers that produce large numbers of the same-size plants. In this system, there are no aisles and all the area can be used for plants. A concrete contractor with experience in flood floor installation is best as the concrete has to be placed accurately. This makes up about 75 percent of the total cost. Floor heat is installed to provide rapid drying of the floor surface when the water is drained and to provide an ideal root zone temperature. Gutter-connected greenhouses are usually divided into bays at the post lines to provide separate zones to reduce the size of the reservoirs needed. The finished floor slopes about ½ to ¾ inch from the post line to the center of the bay. A supply/drain pipe is installed below floor level and a slot or holes are installed after the floor is finished. The concrete floor along the length of the bay is installed level with a laser screed. Reservoir tanks can be located below the floor in an accessible pit or above ground in an adjacent bay.
Subirrigation systems usually have a payback of three to four years depending on the season of use and the labor saved. In some states, subirrigation systems are eligible for grant funds from USDA NRCS programs. Information about NRCS programs is available here
John is an agricultural engineer, an emeritus extension professor at the University of Connecticut and a regular contributor to Greenhouse Management. He is an author, consultant and certified technical service provider doing greenhouse energy audits for USDA grant programs in New England. email@example.com