Labor, Cold Weather and Plant Love

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News and commentary for the nursery & landscape market GrowerTalks MagazineGreen Profit Magazine

Friday, March 10, 2017

Nursery & Landscape Insider

An Untapped Labor Pool
Zika Update
Do You Think Winter is Over?
Yellow-Fruiting Hollies
Altman Plants & EuroAmerican
Big Container Gardening
Reducing Soil pH With Sulfur
Notes from the Edge of Sanity

The Labor Situation – An Untapped Labor Pool

These last two weeks, I've traversed a lot of ground … Washington state to Washington D.C. and points between. The common theme I've heard from growers and landscape contractors is “where’s the labor pool?” That’s a darn good question. The fact of the matter is that the labor pool that we rely on, many of whom live south of the Estados Unidos, are just scared to cross the border even if they have temporary legal status. The Department of Homeland Security has reported that illegal border crossings are down 40% in February and like it or not, in addition to the legal immigrant (H-2A and H-2B) pool, these people fuel the agricultural economy. We’re in a pickle because they just aren't coming north.

It’s not likely to get better anytime soon and you need to have labor. So what do you do? I’ve got a solution I’d like to present that, while not optimal, could certainly benefit your business.

Nearly every state in the Union has a community-based adult program for those with learning disabilities. One of the goals of these centers is to find employment for their clients. These persons aren't going to do complex tasks or burn it up on quickness, but they're perfectly capable of doing routine tasks. And what’s more – they take pride in their work. I've visited nurseries and landscape firms who use learning-disabled employees and universally I hear one thing: They might not be the quickest, but they show up every day and they're a joy to work with.

So consider it – and I bet you’ll be surprised.

Zika Update

I mentioned in my last newsletter how winter has been a bit of a non-starter in the southern U.S. That has the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) worried that 2017 could present a serious opportunity for the virus to gain a foothold in extreme southern U.S. locales and spread north with travelers. The concern is that the winter (or lack thereof) hasn't resulted in significant “winter kill” of mosquitos that can harbor and spread the virus (Aedes aegypti is the mosquito species) in places like south Texas and south Florida.

So what does this have to do with landscape contractors? Well, our clientele will likely look to us for answers on how to protect our (primarily) unborn and small children from this serious virus. Our knowledge of the virus and spread will equip us with the ability to gain the trust of our clients and easily explain the facts related to mosquito control. Therefore, I suggest you keep on top of the subject. The CDC has some wonderful resources!

Winter Isn’t Done, Folks!

Many of you will shake your head at another southern/eastern-based post. However, many of you get your landscape plants from growers in the southern/eastern U.S. – and this could certainly affect you!

In the last newsletter (yes – I keep referencing that last newsletter to make sure you read it), I mentioned how the long-range forecast wasn’t looking good and that a significant cold-snap was going to take place in two to three weeks. Well, guess what? It unfortunately looks like that's exactly what's about to transpire. I spoke to a friend at NOAA today and he confirmed it. The National Phenology Network also says we're one to three weeks early from southwestern Colorado into northern Kansas and east to eastern Pennsylvania.That's not a good combination!

The National Phenology Network also says we are one to three weeks early from southwestern Colorado into northern Kansas and east to eastern Pennsylvania.

And here comes the cold. Depending on your location east of the Mississippi River, the first push of cold will arrive today with a reinforcing shot Sunday into Monday for most of the east -- and persist for at least four nights (longer along and north of the the Mason-Dixon). Growers with outdoor container production should prepare immediately. Growers with covered (unheated hoophouse) production should seriously consider taking measures as well, even if you haven’t removed your cover. Even in a hoophouse, temperatures can drop well below freezing and plants can be damaged.

The NOAA/NWS 10 to 14 day outlook for temperatures should serve as a warning for growers who are preparing for the return of colder wreather in the east.

If there's any good news, it looks like 14 days out, all of the U.S. should be above normal for temps.

Yellow-Fruiting Hollies

I’ll always remember seeing my first yellow-fruiting holly, which was an American holly (Ilex opaca) Goldie plant in a private garden in Philadelphia. I thought, why don’t more people grow these yellow-fruiting hollies? Well, in the case of Ilex opaca, the foliage can be a bit messy and you certainly don’t want to step on a fallen leaf with bare toes (it would make a saint curse in pain).

Ilex x attenuata Longwood Gold is certian to draw attendion during the dreary winter months and is a nice offset to typical red to purple holly fruit.

Eventually, I found the yellow-fruiting cultivar for me and one that's much softer looking in the landscape. Ilex x attenuata is actually a natural hybrid of two North American species of holly (Ilex opaca and Ilex cassine) and foliage is in intermediate of the two in size and density. The cultivar Longwood Gold has beautiful yellow fruit that shine throughout winter. It’s a 12-ft. tall by 8-ft. wide pyramidal tree that's well suited for urban settings and hardy in Zones 6 to 9 (will grow in Zone 10, but fruiting is reduced).

What do you think of yellow-fruiting holies and do you have a preference for any cultivars?

Altman Purchasing Euro Facility & Plants

It’s not often that I steal a story from a colleague, but this one is a huge deal! Chris Beytes reported in his Acres Online enewsletter this week the details of a bid by Ken Altman to purchase the plant material of the former EuroAmerican Propagators, and that an offer on the land and facilities has also been made.

While certainly surprising news, I can’t say it's shocking. Altman is widely known as one heck of a business guru and it’s a natural fit both geographically and business-wise for Altman Plants.

You can check out more details from Chris Beytes here.

Now THAT is Container Gardening

Conifers are cool – there's no denying that. And Xanthocyparis nootkatensis (formerly known as Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) is definitely one of the most graceful of gymnosperms. I’ve seen it growing coast to coast in Zones 4 to 7a, attaining a rather large size at maturity (40-ft. tall and 15- to 20-ft. wide).

While I may be a bit naïve, I had never thought about using this tree as a container plant. That is, until I visited the U.S. Botanic Garden a couple of weeks ago and saw a stunning example. Granted, it's Washington D.C. where everything seems to trump the rest of the normal world outside of the beltway, but it was still a sight to behold!

Bam! You may ask why plant a Xanthocyparis nootkatensis (formerly known as Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) in a container? A better question is why not?!

Just goes to show you can teach an old faculty member new tricks – and I'm currently looking to purchase a gigantic planter for my front yard so I can recreate this masterpiece. I have a feeling the issue will be finding the labor to move the thing …

Reducing Soil pH – An Interesting Nugget

Container growers and landscape contractors are often fighting a constant battle with substrate pH creep. And for those who irrigate with alkaline water, it's an upward creep. To combat this, many growers and landscape contractors use aluminum sulfate to reduce the pH. It’s a relatively inexpensive means of achieving a lower pH. But how does it work?

A lot of us were taught that it's the "sulfate" part of aluminum sulfate that causes the pH drop. But, in fact, Dr. Jim Owen at Virginia Tech just schooled yours truly on the point that it's actually the aluminum that causes the drop in substrate pH when using aluminum sulfate. What’s more, if you really want to drop soil pH in a hurry, elemental sulfur is the product for you – and is the form of sulfur that we should think of when sticking to the old paradigm of using sulfur to lower pH.

So thanks, Jim!

Our Wacky Wonderful World - Notes from the Edge of Sanity

I’ve mentioned the National Collegiate Landscape Competition (NCLC) in previous bits, but the event is now upon us and deserves another shout-out.

NCLC is an annual three-day competition and networking event for students enrolled in interior and exterior horticulture programs at two- and four-year colleges and universities from across the country. Each year, a different host location is selected, which gives the participants a chance to see different parts of the country and also increases the level of difficulty for some of the outdoor competitions. More than 750 landscape industry students demonstrate their skills in real-world, competitive events coupled with an outstanding Career Fair.

This year’s event is being hosted by BYU-Provo (kudos to them)! So if you’re within a few hundred miles, check out the schedule and come have some fun watching the youngsters compete (Friday, March 17 is the best day to visit to see the insanity). It really is a blast – and I’ll be there leading the Georgia Bulldogs to a championship.

Live authentic,

Matthew Chappell
Nursery & Landscape Insider


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