Stones, webinars, Spring Trials and sarcasm!

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Nursery & Landscape Insider

The Spirit of Stone
Plumleaf Azalea
Webinar: Jedi Weed Master Joe Neal
Spring Trials 2017
Dogwood Rosy Teacups
A Survey Worth Taking
Notes from the Edge of Sanity

The Spirit of Stone

Occasionally, people are brave enough to send me a book to review. Typically, these folks don’t know that I'm a college professor and have a drawer full of red pens (for colleagues’ edits), red markers (for graduate students’ edits) and cans of red spray paint (for undergraduates’ edits). Chloe Wertz was one such brave soul, that after learning I could in fact read, decided to send me a nice little book titled ‘The Spirit of Stone.’ Now, you have to admit, with a title like that you know it’s written by a passionate advocate of all things rocky.

Jan Johnson, the author, is indeed passionate, but also very knowledgeable and practical. The first thing that will catch your attention are the photos, which are crisp. The photos aren’t presented as trophies either, as I often see in books written by people trying to impress the reader. Rather, they include representations of the simplicity that can be easily achieved through the intricate that should be reserved for the pros.

And the writing style is, well, passionate. I must admit, I’m a rock guy myself from the days of filling up the bed of an F-150 with my dad to line garden beds. But Jan weaves the historical into realistic principles to make this a story and not just another monotonous gardening book (of which there are many). So – I’ve got to admit it was a fun 182-page read! And I only found one typo! Well done!

A Native Azalea Worth Trying

Native deciduous azaleas as a whole are some finicky kids, and while outstanding if placed in the perfect place, get a bad rap because often they're placed in dry locations receiving full sun. That just doesn’t work for most of the 15 species of deciduous azaleas native to North America. As a whole, they prefer some filtered sun with good soil moisture and soils with high organic matter. One exception I ran across as a PhD (piled higher and deeper) student is Rhododendron prunifolium.

Rhododendron prunifolium, seen here flowering, puts on quite a show in July-August.

The plum-leaf azalea, like many of its relatives, does prefer moist soils, but it tolerates full sun and can withstand dry periods – particularly if well mulched. Unlike other native species, it blooms in mid-summer and has a bloom period of three weeks, which is roughly double that of its relatives. It can get big with time, as tall as 10 ft. and performs well in Zones 6 to 10. And when it comes to pollinators and hummingbirds, those red flowers do the trick! If I had one complaint about the species, it's that it's slow to establish. You’ll need patience for the first three years and thereafter it will impress.

Have you tried this species in your landscape? If so, what say you? 

Webinar with Jedi Weed Master Joe Neal

Dr. Joe Neal at North Carolina (pronounced Kak-A-Lack-A) State University will be presenting a GrowerTalks webinar in a couple of weeks that's sure to be educational. Dr. Neal is an outstanding presenter, one of those academics that presents information from a practical standpoint and not an academic perch. The webinar, which will be on Tuesday, April 25, will cover weed control in greenhouses/covered structures, which is always a challenge, so don’t miss it!

Seen here in his native habitat, Dr. Neal is preparing to leap into action and answer all of your questions on April 25.

This will be Dr. Neal’s second webinar. His first covered weed control in container nurseries and can be seen here. You can register for the second (FREE) webinar here. See how convenient we make your life!

Spring Trials 2017 – Put a Bow On It!

Last week, Ellen Wells and Chris Beytes (with Jen Zurko covering bail money for the two) provided spectacular coverage of the 2017 Spring Trials. These two Bobbleheads covered the spectrum of floriculture’s latest and greatest plants in six dizzying days.


As a “woodies” guy, I'm always amazed (or envious) at the strides that floriculture (annual/perennial) growers make year after year. More compact, better flower longevity, longer flowering periods, new flower colors and disease resistance seemed to be the themes this year, which is to be expected. What intrigues me is that better water use efficiency, a fancy term for drought tolerance, is also becoming more and more prevalent in the marketing of many new cultivars. That’s a great thing because water issues aren't going away, even if the western drought seems to be lessening.

You can check out all of the stops, new plants and even a moderately addictive (for plant geeks) YouTube channel here. And feel free to critique the YouTube videos. Personally, I think Ellen looks fabulous!

It’s Dogwood Season

The 2017 Masters is in the books and my annual obsession with dogwoods has been rekindled as a result (especially since the azaleas were all but bloomed out due to an early spring). If you’ve never watched the Masters, you should, because it's a glorious spectacle of landscaping! I don’t even care who wins – I just want to sit with the TV on mute (announcers are annoying) and take in how GREEN it is. And how much that green makes colors pop in the landscape. That’s particularly true with the dogwoods. What an American icon this plant is. Even with all its troubles with powdery mildew and anthracnose, it’s difficult to abandon this beauty.

Cornus Rosy Teacups, pictured here, has a more typical kousa-form to its blooms. Photo courtesy of Rutgers University. 

Rutgers University (no offense to Tom Ranney at NCSU) has long been the epicenter of Cornus breeding and genetics efforts. A couple years ago, I started paying attention to a new cultivar out of Rutgers that was unique in several ways. Rosy Teacups (released in late 2015) is actually a hybrid between Cornus kousa and C. nutallii. It’s an outstanding rounded small tree (20 ft. rounded form - some may say a shrub on sterorids) that has excellent vigor and disease tolerance. It also has outstanding environmental tolerance, growing from Zone 6a to 10. Blooms are a medium pink, but dark for a dogwood, and what I really like is that the foliage is clean and unlike many dogwoods, the habit is uniform. In other words, you can plant 10 of these and they’ll look like siblings, not 3d cousins twice removed (with some eliminated permanently from the gene pool).

Have you tried Rosy Teacups? If so, what do you think?

Marengo – A Review

I’ve been wanting to write about OHP’s (relatively) new pre-emergence herbicide Marengo for quite some time now. Why you ask? Well, it’s a fantastic pre-emergence herbicide if used properly! In my other life as an Extension Specialist, I frequently get calls from both growers and landscape contractors who have used it wrong and are paying for their mistake. As a result, a lot of people bad mouth the product when in actuality they may want to go back and read the label. First, what makes Marengo different and unique? Well, there are two things: 1) It' very water insoluble, and 2) it doesn’t volatilize. This means it's stable and has very good longevity, which offsets the fact that it's expensive stuff!

So where do people get into trouble with it. First, they apply it to annuals/herbaceous perennials. If you check out the label, you won’t see a single annual and only three herbaceous perennials (hemerocallis before leaf emergence, gaura and Russian sage) on the list of tolerant species. If you wonder why, then just pick out your least favorite annual and try it. Results vary from severe injury to death. Second, you must apply the label rate – over-application can burn foliage on even the "tolerant" species.

However, where Marengo shines is when applied to good ole dirt (field soil) and especially clay soils. I’ve used this product at label rate and gotten six to eight months of effective weed control around production beds, in-row in field-production beds and in landscapes (particularly hardscape areas). Considering I’m a Georgia guy in the heart of weedville, I’ll take it!

A Survey Worth Five Minutes

The Clean WateR3 research team is conducting a nationwide survey to understand factors that influence growers’ decision-making processes when it comes to water conservation and treatment technologies. Their goal is to aid producers of nursery and floriculture to implement sustainable, alternative sources of water to enhance long-term economic viability while decreasing dependence on potable water. The survey should be completed by the primary decision maker related to water use. All responses will remain anonymous.

Why is this important? Simply stated, knowledge is power. Right now, we have very little data as an industry on water use. That’s a dangerous position, especially if one day we're in a fight for water rights – wait – that’s happening now!

If you would like to learn more about this project (it’s a big one), please contact Dr. Alexa Lamm at (352) 392-6545 or by email at

Our Wacky Wonderful World—Notes from the Edge of Sanity

If you’re wondering what happened to the 2016 floriculture crops survey, don’t hold your breath! The 2016 survey has been discontinued. Why? It’s all about budget or lack thereof. USDA is facing a possible 21% budget cut (or larger, I hear from friends in USDA) and is taking steps to prepare for this cut, which could occur mid-year.

You may ask, why floriculture? Well, first a little lesson on how things get done in Washington D.C. It’s simple; the loudest person (who has lobbying resources) gets the government resources. Simply speaking, floriculture isn’t very loud these days. In fact, neither is Nursery Production or Landscape Contracting. How can that change, you ask? Well, one thing I noticed long ago growing up on a farm is that those commodities with a national commodity commission always seem to be front-and-center at the trough of goodies coming out of Washington, D.C. If you think not, then how is it that row-crop agriculture and animal-based agriculture yields so much political power despite the fact that specialty crop agriculture is approaching 60% of U.S. farm gate value? It’s because they have a unified national voice in commodity commissions that focus on a defined priority list. It allows these commodities to dictate the discussion years before a problem arises. The Green Industry, on the other hand, typically can only react to issues. Don’t blame AmericanHort or The National Association of Landscape Professionals – they get more done with fewer resources than anyone I know in D.C.

A constant debate point I hear when I mention this is: “But the Green Industry is too diverse to consider an industry-wide commodity commission.” Yes, it's true that the Green Industry is far more diverse than say, the dairy industry. But then again, there are more and more similarities among industry segments that affect us all. Look no further than labor, water rights, federal pesticide applicator regulations, etc. etc.

While not everyone may agree on this topic, and some will certainly say I've crossed over the line into the aluminum-foil hat wearing insanity classification, maybe it's time to start seriously considering if our industry needs to fully unite behind a commodity commission. What do you think?

(Read this very fast like the end of an insurance commercial.) The thoughts and opinions expresed in this post are intended to illicit thought on behalf of the reader and are not necessarilly the opinions of the author or Ball Publishing, unless you agree. In that case, remind me of what the point was, please. This message will self-destruct in 30 seconds ...

Live authentic,

Matthew Chappell
Nursery & Landscape Insider


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