In the Dog Days of Summer - Thinking of Cold Tolerance

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Friday, August 04, 2017

Nursery & Landscape Insider

Surprise ... Lily!
Speaking of Cold Hardy
Generational Webinar
Lantana Chapel Hill Gold
Fall Webworms
Costa Farms Sells Majority Interest
Hummingbird Bee Moth
Notes from the Edge of Sanity


There’s no nicer way to start a summer day than when I walk out of mi casa and on the way to my truck being greeted by Lycoris xsquamigera (sometimes noted as L. squamigera). Some call this "surprise lily" while others  call it "magic lily" (and others "naked ladies," but we try to keep this newsletter G-rated). It's indeed both magical and surprising, with flower scapes emerging and quickly blooming in mid-summer in Zones 4a to 9. Foliage emerges in early to mid-spring and senesces in late June, with flowers emerging six to eight weeks later.


Blooms are a medium pink and 5 to 7 in. in diameter, lasting 10 to 14 days, depending on environment. But despite the short window of flowering, the plant is interesting enough to merit a place in most landscapes. And it’s not like it takes up a lot of space!

One last tidbit, which is that Lycoris xsquamigera is the most cold hardy lycoris that I'm aware of. Another common lycoris, L. radiata is a beautiful red flowering species, but you’ll be hard pressed to find it north of Zone 6b … even though it allows gardeners in Zones 9 to 10 to have a surprise lily of their own!  

Speaking of Cold Hardy

This post may elicit a good deal of debate, but recently when speaking with a group of ornamental plant breeding buddies, the topic of cold hardiness came up. Specifically, Todd West at North Dakota State University indicated how he often witnesses interspecific or intergeneric hybrids (cultivars) exhibit cold hardiness that's greater than either of the parents.

This got me thinking … and there's a real argument to be had for the concept of interspecific hybrids being more cold hardy than its parents. A couple of examples that I remembered offhand (not including the lycoris I mentioned above) include Acer xfreemanii (a hybrid of A. rubrum and A. saccharinum), which is a full zone more cold hardy than either of its parents (Zone 3). Then there's Ilex x Nellie R. Stevens that's again a full zone hardier (Zone 6) than either of its parents (I. aquifolium and I. cornuta).

So what do you think? Am I crazy or do you have any interspecific hybrids you’d like to comment on and that have great cold hardiness? If so, please do!  

A Truly Eye-Opening Generational Webinar

Effective management sometimes requires very broad generalizations regarding how generations communicate, what they value and how they think on a very basic level. I’ve always been fascinated with this subject, and have sat in a lot of academic workshops and seminars on the topic. However, none have been as well presented as a webinar I recently attended.


Dr. Teresa Byington, Associate Professor/Specialist at the University of Nevada, presented a webinar titled “Millennials in the Workplace: Understanding Generational Difference” back on June 22 and it’s available for free via YouTube.

The webinar focused on the fact that for the first time in history we have four (or five) generations in the workplace. The different values, priorities and life experiences of each generation have created potential areas for generational friction. The presentation examined significant life events that influenced the values and attitudes of each generation. With a focus on Millennials, Dr. Byington covered how non-Millennials can gain an understanding of ways to resolve differences related to topics such as communication, dress codes and work style preferences. It was definitely eye-opening and is worth 38 minutes of your time! 

Lantana Chapel Hill Gold

In Zones 7 to 8, we're constantly in search of a great and reliably cold-hardy (I’m not sure why cold hardiness is on my mind in August – just go with it) lantana. Many of you may be familiar with Lantana Miss Huff, introduced by Goodness Grows and long revered as the most cold hardy of all lantana.


Well, I've dug many a hole in Zones 7 and 8 and planted every lantana cultivar I could get my paws on. And other than Miss Huff, I’ve only had one give me five years of life. That would be Chapel Hill Gold, a cultivar introduced by Plant Introductions Inc. It’s slow to emerge in the spring, but by late June hits its stride and blooms its head off until frost. It’s also got a nice form to it, being 12- to 18-in. tall and about 36-in. wide. Well done, PII guys!  

Fall Webworms

It’s that time of year again when fall webworm activity is heating up across the U.S. The caterpillar, Hyphantria cunea, feeds on nearly all deciduous tree species native to North America (and is one of North America’s few exported pests that's problematic in Europe and Asia). Despite its wide host range, it tends to prefer apple, ash, elm, hickory, linden, mulberry, oak, poplar, sweetgum (finally – something likes sweetgum), walnut and willow.


Fall webworm is often confused with another tent-forming caterpillar; the eastern tent caterpillar. The easiest method to differentiate the two is that eastern tent caterpillars make nests in crotches where two branches meet and leave the nest to feed.

Fall webworm caterpillars, on the other hand, form nests on branch tips and feed inside the webbing. This makes control very difficult, as insecticidal sprays rarely penetrate the webbing and hence control is minimal. Most entomologists simply recommend pruning out affected areas. If chemical control is necessary, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) in the products Dipel or Thuricide can be used to control small caterpillars. Additionally, the traditional insecticides acephate (Orthene), carbaryl (Sevin) and pyrethrins are all labeled for fall webworm control. 

Costa Farms Sells Majority Interest to “Permanent Capital” Firm

In the nursery world, Costa is a big player, and I was pretty shocked to hear they'd sold a majority interest to Markel Ventures. My boss Chris Beytes penned a fantastic piece that lays out what happened very well in his Acres Online newsletter, so rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll share his article below. For related articles, check out his newsletter here.

Homestead, Florida-based Costa Farms just released the news that they’ve sold a majority share of their business to a company called Markel Ventures, based in Richmond, Virginia. Markel’s primary business is underwriting specialty insurance products; their Ventures division invests in strong, mid-sized businesses in a variety of markets, including commercial bakery and food processing, trucking, construction and other industries.

And now horticulture.

The deal is for a “majority share” of the nursery operations in the U.S. and abroad (no hint as to how much of a majority), but it doesn't include any land, nor does it include Costa’s fledging medical cannabis business in Florida.

My first question in these situations is always “why?”: why did the seller sell and why did the buyer buy. I first reached out to Costa CEO Jose “Joche” Smith for the seller’s perspective.

Joche told me that the family and the company’s Board had for some time been considering finding an investment partner to help them continue to grow the business. However, they didn't have any interest in going the venture capital route, with a partner that was only interested in fast returns and a quick flip. Someone mentioned Warren Buffet’s firm, Berkshire Hathaway, as a long-term strategic investor. But some research indicated that Costa was just too small to be of interest to them. But that idea led them to Markel Ventures, which likens itself to Berkshire Hathaway, but on a smaller scale.

Said Joche, “We thought the right thing to do was to partner with somebody that gave us a little bit more liquidity and more options going forward to grow our business. The relationship with this kind of partner is just so unique. It’s nothing like a strategic buyer that comes in and takes over your business. And nothing like a private equity firm, that has a very short horizon and a lot of pressure to get a quick return.

“There are only a few firms like Markel—Berkshire Hathaway is one of them—Hathaway is much, much bigger than Markel … these guys that have a lot of cash available that they want to invest. … We just thought it was a good marriage.” 

The deal with Markel has allowed Costa to eliminate all of their long-term bank debt and provides capital to grow the business in a way that’s more strategic than in the past. He says they’re putting more resources into business development and have made a hire in that capacity.

“I think we’ll be more methodical and deliberate [in our acquisitions] and not just sort of opportunistic, waiting for those things to fall in our lap.” 

Hummingbird Bee Moth

When it comes to mistaken identity in the insect world, there may be no greater candidate than Hemaris diffinis, also known as the hummingbird bee moth or the snowberry clearwing. For many, this moth looks exactly like a bumblebee, yet upon closer inspection this insect has an elongated proboscis not seen on a bumblebee.


This time of year across North America, Hemaris diffinis takes flight, and as a result, landscape contractors get pictures emailed or texted from clients. The insect has no ability to sting and therefore is no risk to humans. The bumblebee look is simply a fantastic evolutionary adaptation to fool predators. And if you're noticing more sightings this year, you’re exactly right. The mild winter across much of North America resulted in lower winter kill and higher populations in 2017. 

Our Wacky Wonderful World - Notes from the Edge of Sanity

Today, my daughter (Lily-Anna), son (Waylon Ignacio – a.k.a Nacho), wife (Sarah) and I attended Lily-Anna’s first grade orientation. Thankfully, Waylon is 1 year old and isn’t subjected to the throws of scholastic life yet. Lucky kid has four years of freedom left!

For some reason, I decided to take a walk around the school. Not a single flower bed … how depressing! Especially considering we in horticulture continually complain about how our profession lacks workers. After all, we in horticulture feed the masses, beautify our environments and solve our environmental predicaments. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

Yet despite all the complaining, we do not, in mass, engage the youngest and most moldable members of our society. Very few of us volunteer our time to build and plant a garden at every primary and/or elementary school in our area. We expect others to shape our children’s love for horticulture and the environment. However, we should take ownership of that task because we're the professionals. Without us, the future of horticulture is moot. We need to plant that garden.

There are over 28,000 readers of this newsletter. If 10% of you gave your time to create and foster an elementary school garden in your community, it would result in 2,800 schools having access to a resource not likely available now. My daughter’s school (in rural Georgia – a miniscule school) has 500 students. Multiply 500 students by 2,800 schools and you have 1.4 million people who, while they may not be interested in horticulture as a profession, would gain a basic knowledge and understanding of horticulture.

Isn’t that worth your investment? Isn’t that worth your time? And as usual … shout out when you install a school garden (with pictures) … I’ll totally shine the spotlight on the best! 

Live authentic,

Matthew Chappell
Nursery & Landscape Insider


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