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Departments - The Growing Edge

With a new year upon us, it may be time to re-examine how you’re purchasing, growing and storing your plants.

February 16, 2015

Handling your plants from ordering to selling can be a headache for any grower, which is why Greenhouse Management spoke with Steve Vandenberg, warehouse manager for Vandenberg Bulbs, a horticultural wholesale supplier, about the best practices to follow.

Greenhouse Management: How should growers estimate their plant needs?

Steve Vandenberg: It seems this is the question every year, for every grower. I think the only real way to estimate your needs is to follow market patterns and know your customers. It is hard to guess an accurate percentage of what is pre-ordered versus what is ordered on speculation.

Although every company is different, I would venture to guess that a retail/wholesale operation would have pre-orders to the tune of 50-60 percent, growing the rest on speculation of re-books and new business. Retail-only operations obviously will not have re-book numbers from September through December when ordering for the following season. In this case, much more of your order would be based on knowing your customer and anticipating the market. Wholesale growers maybe have it a bit easier estimating their needs, but the “comfort” of knowing what to order may be outweighed by the shrinking margins. For most greenhouses, striking a nice balance would be ideal. I think it is important to try something new every year. Some years it is flats that sell, and a year later their sales volume could be outstripped by planters and baskets. By diversifying products and trying something new, you could have a little buffer for any crop failures or over-ordering.

GM: What are some best storage practices?

SV: Talk to other growers and rooting stations and follow their advice. For the few perishable goods we seasonally stock here, we have learned a lot about storage of a specific product from the vendors themselves. While we are not a greenhouse by any means, we do stock and handle some perishable goods. For years we stored seed potatoes and onion sets in a section of our warehouse that apparently fluctuated in temperature. With a simple suggestion that we store them in a controlled temperature environment (at 45 degrees F), we were able to almost double the shelf life of those products.

GM: What growing tips should growers follow? Where should they seek out growing information?

SV: Stay current on growing practices and anything innovative. If you are a smaller greenhouse operation and cannot afford to be trialing chemicals and trying innovative growing techniques, use information from trial gardens and extension resources instead. Resources in this industry have come a long way with everything from interactive websites to weekly growing bulletins. Some very useful examples of these resources would include MSU horticulture extensions, grower magazines (like this publication), rooting station publications, etc.

GM: Are there other tips for shipping?

SV: I think there is huge importance in photo-documenting every shipment in case there should need to be a claim filed. This has been important both here at VBC and all the way back the shipping and supply chain to the grower. It represents a substantial change in the industry. Perhaps this is thanks to the prevalence of cameras, smart phones and other user-friendly technology. The higher-than-average number of claims created by last winter’s frigid temperatures during the shipping period certainly made this change standard operating procedure. In any case, reporting shipping damages or promptly starting “on-watch” claims based on horticultural hunches (vis-à-vis potential freeze damage, disease issues) is made much easier when there is clear photo-documentation of the problems from the outset.

GM: Anything we might have missed?

SV: The business has changed significantly from 10-15 years ago. There is very little of the “just order me the same as last year.” It has become a lot more competitive over the years. With advancements in our industry ranging from improved and expanded plant genetics to container options, container functionality and various options for growing media, it makes it tough to not look around. Customers in our industry today will look around, price shop, try new things, and it is in their best interest to do so. It is our responsibility to stay current on market trends, prepare our stock accordingly and communicate effectively with our vendors. By doing so, we can offer our customers every possible advantage in order to earn their respect, trust and loyalty.

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The Greenhouse Management staff would like to note two errors from last month’s Generation Next supplement:

  • Peace Tree Farm’s website was incorrectly listed. It should have read
  • The location of Alison Justice’s Hope Greenhouses should have been listed as Fair Play, South Carolina.