Mexican Heather is one of the most commonly used annuals, famous for its drought tolerance, consistent flower power and easiness in production. In 2016, Westhoff introduced FloriGlory, which featured increased flower power and flower size when compared to any of the other cuphea varieties available. In addition to the increased flower power, FloriGlory brings new colors and habits.
The initial lineup was broken into two main groups. The standard bedding plant types that most growers are used to have taken on the Latina names of Diana, Maria, Sofia and Selena, and the larger, landscape shrub types specifically geared for southern gardens have the Latino names of Alonso, Diego and Miguel.
In 2017, FloriGlory Diana was entered into the All-America Selections trial program and was awarded as an AAS Winner after being trialed against Allyson and Lavender Lace.
FloriGlory cuphea are propagated from unrooted cuttings. URC are available to North American growers from Cohen, Dümmen Orange, Quality Cuttings, Plant Source International and Vivero Internacional.
Casa Verde Growers is a 35-acre facility with 24 acres under cover in Columbia Station, Ohio. Within the covered space, section grower Jen DeVere manages five acres, of which four acres is dedicated to poinsettia production. This encompasses all of the operation’s production of the crop.
In early September, in Week 36, DeVere noticed some whiteflies on her poinsettias — more than she had seen in past years. “In a two-acre area, I had eight sticky cards out, which is a little low, but I just did one per bay,” DeVere says. “I was averaging between six and 10 whiteflies at one point. I’m like, ‘Okay, that’s enough.’”
DeVere applied Rycar® Insecticide, a translaminar insecticide — meaning it is absorbed into the leaf providing protection to both top and underside of the leaf — from SePRO. She applied it using an automated boom system and quickly started seeing results. “I can spray with [the booms], and translaminar chemicals are super for that because I can set up a boom to jog down and jog back and do a real quick light glaze of spray,” she says. “It frees me up to do other things.”
However, boom irrigation isn’t the only way to apply Rycar. Ian Patric, head grower at Smith Gardens’ Aurora, Oregon, facility, uses a fogger on Q-biotype whiteflies. He relies on the product as a cleanup around late October after using biocontrols as a preventative measure at the facility, which has about 25 acres of undercover production space and roughly 10 acres of outdoor space.
“I think [the fogger] provides better coverage — especially when you have a tight crop with a closed canopy,” Patric says. “Also, the application time is significantly less with a fogger, compared to spraying.”
Rycar is a noted tool for growers especially during poinsettia season. It is compatible with biocontrol agents and has good crop safety on poinsettias including bracts in color.
Fessler Nursery in Woodburn, Oregon, is about 12 miles south of Aurora, and has approximately 300,000 square feet of covered greenhouses. Head grower Taylor Burk also applies Rycar to control problematic whiteflies. “It did a really nice job knocking everything down,” she says.
Controlling poinsettia growth
Topflor®, a plant growth regulator (PGR) from SePRO, has helped these growers improve their overall crop production as well. Burk drenched 0.5 ppm of Topflor on one poinsettia variety in the second-to-last week of October last year as an “emergency drench.” “They stayed right where they were in size and colored up nicely,” she says. “There was no delay in bract coloring, and it strengthened the stems a little bit.”
Burk also uses Topflor on gardenias, and she says she aims to start a trial program this year using it on poinsettias.
Smith Gardens’ Patric says he has used Topflor on hydrangea. “We’re liking it on hydrangea,” he says.
At Casa Verde Growers, DeVere says she has almost exclusively used Topflor as a PGR so far in 2018, whether it was sprays, toning throughout production, sprenching or drenches at light rates. “The fact that I love most about Topflor is that it doesn’t lock up flower buds, and it doesn’t impact lateral branching,” she says.
DeVere plans to apply 0.25 or 0.5 ppm of Topflor on poinsettia crops in the beginning of October. “With the experiments that I had tried last year with Topflor, I didn’t see a reduction of bract size, which was great,” she says. “I did see them slow down a little bit, but I did a later drench, and this year I want to do an earlier drench with Topflor to manage some of my more aggressive varieties.”
*Always read and follow label directions. Camelot® O and Topflor® are registered trademark of SePRO Corporation. Akari and Hachi-Hachi SC are registered trademarks of Nichino America, Inc.
Premium crops: Does size matter?
Departments - Hort Truths
Large plants command a higher price tag, but growers can examine and adjust their premium and standard crop offerings to make a profit off tiny plants, too.
It’s very possible that I just might have dropped a ridiculous amount of money ordering the tiniest of tiny plants: a few bareroot live Lithops plants and some seed. Small plants … big price tag. We don’t need to get into the dirty details of my lifelong obsession with tiny cute things, but it did make me think about how customers attach value to plants, and which crops are considered premium. Size seems to matter in this industry, but should it?
We’ve done a really good job over the years of training our customers to value plants based on their size. Container size, that is. The bigger the container, the bigger the price tag. Sure, larger plants of any type take more inputs, so it seems only logical you should charge more for them.
We’ve also trained them that different types of plants should be valued the same, if they’re offered in a similar container size — for example, offering all 4-inch annuals, perennials, or herb for the same price. This does, of course, serve as a convenience to both growers and retailers, as it streamlines both the purchasing and selling of a wide selection of plant varieties — hoping to balance out the margins between higher and lower-cost varieties.
But when it comes to premium crops, value is in the eye of the beholder. Could you be charging a lot more for smaller plant specimens? If I’m any indication, the answer to that question is a resounding “Yes!”
There is a lot of buzz between industry pros, as of late, about scaling down the size of plants we’re selling … even down to plug-sized delivery. With the popular prairie garden movement, there’s a push to sell plugs so customers can buy the volume of what they really need to successfully execute such garden designs at a realistic price. Most of the industry grumblings I hear about such a small-plant movement is, “How on Earth are we supposed to make money on a few sales of plugs?!” Well, that is going to be the challenge: making such a project affordable for the consumer, but still earning meaningful cashflow on what you sell.
As with all things we want to sell, we must craft a solid marketing story around the product to bring meaning to the price tag. It’s probably also going to mean redefining the term “affordable” around such small plant/large space gardening projects. How much you get to charge for your plugs depends on how good of a job you do creating desire and demand with a good story.
When I look at the booming world of indoor plant enthusiasts, there is rabid consumption of plants based on the species, not the size. If you followed the Pilea peperomioides craze, then you know people like me were willing to shell out $75 for a tiny transplant. I probably would have paid more if that’s what it took to get what I wanted. Tiny succulents are also all the rage, and price is not usually the primary consideration when it comes down to the act of possession.
If you talk to most independent garden centers, many will tell you that one of their highest margin categories is indoor plants. Often, customers are looking for a specific species or variety of plant — and they are often willing to pay a much higher price to possess it. Annuals, on the other hand by their nature, are treated as disposables.
What if you created a new story around your “disposable” annuals, perennials, or other crops, independent of pot size?
Ultimately, how you value your crops, and how you market them to your customers, should take experience into consideration. Perhaps it’s experience that should weigh most heavily on the price tag of premium plants. This brings me to how both growers and retailers often inadvertently rob the marketplace of great plants; they transpose their own values onto a plant — instead of allowing the marketplace to boost opportunity.
Let me give you an example: I’m a garden center retailer that wants to do a big push on a new variety of echinacea. After contacting all my growers, I realize I can’t offer the plant I know my customer will want because all my growers tell me that “the plugs are too expensive” and they won’t grow it. Wait a minute… Shouldn’t I be the one to decide that? If I plan to sell a premium plant at a premium retail price, then I’d expect to pay a premium price for it to my grower. This is where good grower-to-retailer marketing comes into play.
Premium might not be permanent. Trends in the marketplace will of course guide you as to potential increases or decreases in your premium crop pricing and margins, as well as which crops to drop from or add to your premium line.
So sure, size matters. That said, I challenge you to examine your existing premium lines, standard lines, and potential new products. Can you spot an opportunity where an amazing customer product experience, plus a good story, could turn tiny plants into big profits?
Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com
Departments - Three Questions
The Perennial Plant Association president and Smithsonian horticulturist discusses the garden she has managed for two decades, her favorite perennials and balancing plants as a career and a hobby.
As president of the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) and a horticulturist at the Smithsonian, Janet Draper’s life is plants. Even after working hard to help oversee the 2018 Perennial Plant Symposium in Raleigh, North Carolina, this summer, Draper won’t take a break from plants. For her, plants, and the people that share her passion for them, are everything.
Below, Draper answers questions about her job at the Smithsonian, her favorite perennials and balancing plants as a career and a passion.
Greenhouse Management: At the Smithsonian, you’ve been overseeing the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden for the last 20 years. What is it like managing the same space for two decades? How has it changed?
Janet Draper: I know it very intimately, working there so long. There are mature American Elm trees in the space, which over time have gotten bigger and their roots [have gotten] more prevalent. And just having to adjust what I grow due to the changes of the space. And styles have changed too. I don’t really consider myself [as a trend follower], but I guess I do because I was into that tropical, canna banana, all-crazy tropicals, which do wonderfully in the D.C. heat and humidity. They just flourish. But I think I’m becoming more of an ecological gardener and trying to teach people those kinds of thoughts that plants can be much more than just something pretty out there. And that [plants] can give back so much more.
GM: Do you have a favorite perennial, or a few favorite perennials?
JD: You’re asking to pick my favorite child, which is really tough. But I will anyway. One of them is the Perennial Plant of the Year this year, Allium ‘Millenium.’ I love Allium ‘Millenium’ because it looks great for such a long season of time. Talk about a pollinator magnet. The amount of insects it draws in and provides nectar for is wonderful. And then I also love Calamintha ‘White Cloud.’ It's just another top-notch pollinator plant that I love personally for the wonderful fragrance of the foliage [and] the frothy, baby's breath-like vision it produces. And as a third benefit, the amount of pollinators it brings in and the life that it brings to the garden. Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ is another favorite.
GM: You also cultivate a home garden in addition to maintaining the garden at the Smithsonian. How do you continue to fuel your passion for plants as a hobby when it's also your career?
JD: That’s where I am really fortunate because you don’t turn off passion — it’s either there or it’s not. The garden that I do for Smithsonian, I am on public display at all times. It is not big, only a third of an acre, but it is jam-packed with as many plants as I can possibly cram in there. And I am constantly asked public questions and inquiries — everything from ‘How do I find the Air and Space Museum?’ to ‘Where is the closest bathroom?’ But when I’m in my home garden, it’s [only] me and occasionally a neighbor will stop by and make a comment, or we’ll chat, but I’m not on public display at home. There’s a big difference between the two. What I love about my garden is that every day is a new adventure and a new change. It being more naturalistic, there seems to be something different daily. It’s constantly evolving and that's the overall joy that horticulture brings for me.
Natural gas, propane and fuel oil prices are quite volatile, with increases predicted for the coming winter. There are several options when purchasing fuels that can help to save money and thereby reduce the cost of producing crops. Let’s look at some of these.
Natural gas is usually the lowest-cost fossil fuel. With good supplies available due to new production technology including fracking, companies are expanding their pipelines to serve new customers.
The cost of natural gas is made up of several independent charges, including customer charge, demand charge, distribution charge, storage and gas charge. The customer charge is a monthly charge that covers installing and servicing the gas mains. The monthly demand charge is usually based on the greatest daily use during the cold December to February period. The gas company has to have adequate gas and large enough lines to supply your needs on the coldest days. You pay for this demand, although you don’t use any gas during the summer. This can more than double the cost of a therm. The other charges depend on the quantity of fuel purchased.
Some growers have reduced the amount of demand by converting some of the natural gas heaters to propane. Although propane is more expensive on a Btu basis, it can reduce the overall total heating bill. The propane is used for peak heat demand on colder nights. Cost of conversion is usually the cost of changing the nozzles.
Another option is to install dual fuel boilers that burn either natural gas or fuel oil. These are usually two separate burner units that are hinged to fit into the firebox. Changing from one fuel to another takes only a few minutes. This can reduce a high natural gas demand charge and also provides a level of insurance should one or the other supply be interrupted. The cost of natural gas can also be reduced by bundling your purchases through an energy marketer/supplier that buys the gas at the lowest price; arranges transportation, storage and delivery; and assists with load balancing to avoid penalties.
Propane and fuel oil — Propane is sold by the gallon and has about 10 percent less heat than a therm of natural gas or 37 percent less than a gallon of #2 fuel oil. Both propane and fuel oil suppliers have several similar pricing agreements and delivery options. It pays to explore the different plans to find the best one for your business. These include:
Market price — Fuel is charged at the supplier’s daily rate either on the day it is ordered or on the date of delivery. Over the heating season, there is no protection from price increases and also no additional fees normally charged with the other plans.
Pre-buy — These plans are offered during the summer and allows you to pre-pay some or all of the fuel needed during the heating season. Fuel prices are usually least expensive during July and August when demand is low. This plan shelters you from price increases.
Price cap and fixed price plans — These provide a guaranted per-gallon price for the heating season. It never exceeds the cap or fixed price. These options usually have a higher per-gallon price to cover insurance that the dealer has to purchase.
Budget plans — These spread the projected annual cost over the year. If you use more than you paid for, you have to pay a lump sum at the end of the year.
Propane tank rental or purchase — Most propane companies will supply you with “free” propane tanks for your greenhouses if you purchase a minimum quantity per year. This means that you will be paying for delivery, haz-mat, tank maintenace and other surcharges as well as being required to purchase all your propane from them at an inflated price. Purchasing your own tanks usually results in a significant reduced gas price and the option of purchasing from a company of your choice. Fuel costs are best compared on a million Btu basis. Use the formulas in Table 1 to get your costs.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org