Proven success

Departments - Meet the Grower: Dennis Crum

As director of growing operations at Four Star Greenhouse, Dennis Crum has helped debut a new plant brand, troubleshoot growers’ challenges and move the company into the future.

July 30, 2018

Photo courtesy of Four Star Greenhouse

Dennis Crum joined Four Star Greenhouse in 1992 to kick off the inaugural season of the Proven Winners plant brand. Since then, Four Star has grown from 7 acres of covered production space to about 25. Throughout his nearly 45-year greenhouse career, Crum has impacted growers across the country by sharing his experience to solve common production problems with new solutions.

“The knowledge and experience that our growing team has acquired over the years from producing the Proven Winners and Proven Selections programs are a great resource that we share with our grower customers and broker network,” Crum says.

Growing up green

Crum had help honing his green thumb at a young age. He often assisted his grandmother in her garden, and every spring, she gave him his own tomato plant to maintain. Crum also received bulbs and seeds from a neighbor, who was a salesman for Ball Seed Company. These influences soon had him hooked on horticulture.

Crum started working at a local garden center during high school, and then earned his horticulture/greenhouse floriculture degree from Michigan State University. He stayed at MSU for three years as a research technician, studying various forms of supplemental plant lighting.

After leaving academia, Crum worked as a cut rose grower in Illinois for the next 15 years. These experiences prepared him for his role at Four Star.

The Proven Winners Variety Committee meeting, from left to right: Curt Varsogea, sales manager; Donna Rath, product line manager; Robin Bourdon, product line manager; Jeff Back, director of greenhouse operations; and Dennis Crum, director of growing operations.
Photo courtesy of Four Star Greenhouse

Producing Proven Winners

As one of two Proven Winners plant propagators in the U.S., Four Star supplies all 50 states with rooted cuttings of the Proven Winners annuals line, as well as some regional varieties for the Proven Selections annuals line — in addition to a large finished plant program for both brands. Four Star also grows and sells young plants and finished crops for the Proven Winners ColorChoice line of shrubs and perennials.

In peak season, Four Star employs about 24 section growers plus five product line managers, along with site managers and assistant managers at both facilities. Though Crum doesn’t directly grow crops anymore, he works closely with his growing staff to oversee every aspect of the Proven Winners and Proven Selections annual, perennial, shrub, edible and succulent programs.

“There are times when I do work with crops directly as I’m trialing new soil mixes, fertilizers or containers,” Crum says. “We also work with the R&D team throughout the year as they grow and evaluate potential new Proven Winners and Proven Selection plants in trials.”

Crum attends the Proven Winners selection meeting every year, when new introductions are chosen based on superior garden performance after rigorous two to three-year trials.

From left to right: Director of growing operations Dennis Crum with product line managers Donna Rath, Robin Bourdon and Brian Bourdon
Photo courtesy of Four Star Greenhouse

Helping growers succeed

A typical day for Crum includes frequent walks through the growing facilities to check on plants and check in with the growing staff. But much of his time is spent fielding questions from grower customers and brokers.

“One of my challenges is having enough time to contact all of the people reaching out to us to discuss problems,” Crum says. “Questions can range from crop planning to best-selling varieties and combinations, crop timing, pest and nutritional problems, fertilizer and PGR recommendations, and of course, quality issues.”

Crum has always been dedicated to helping growers solve production problems. In the early years of the Proven Winners program, for example, Crum received a lot of calls from growers about high pH levels and iron deficiency symptoms in crops. To address these issues, Crum worked with researchers to develop the Proven Winners professional fertilizer program.

Similarly, Crum worked with researchers at MSU to develop the Supernova liner program, which offers growers shorter crop times and consistent flowering, with less pinching and fewer PGRs, according to Four Star’s website.

Working with MSU — and leveraging his early research experience with supplemental lighting — Crum also expanded and upgraded the use of high-pressure sodium lighting at Four Star. Likewise, pulling knowledge from his cut rose growing days, he installed a CO2 system in several production greenhouses to improve crop quality during the winter.

Dennis Crum presenting at Four Star University, a training session Four Star hosts for its grower customers
Photo courtesy of Four Star Greenhouse

Looking ahead

Although he’s turning 65 this August, Crum isn’t slowing down. He doesn’t plan to retire for another three to five years, but he is thinking ahead by organizing Four Star’s growing department to move forward in the future.

As his generation retires and as experienced growers get harder to find, Crum sees a huge opportunity for young growers to step up and take on more responsibilities. He offers them the following advice.

“Get to know the crops you grow and the people you work with as thoroughly as possible,” Crum says. “With a good working knowledge of the crops, your fellow team members and what’s expected by ownership, your job will be much easier and your value to the company will increase exponentially.”