Fall is upon Us

August 22, 2003 - 12:58

The final word

Now that the kids are back in school, the fall season is
upon us. That means producing and selling mums, pansies, perennials and other
fall crops. Oh, and by the way, you can't forget about growing your
poinsettias! For some of you (the smart ones), you don't grow poinsettias
anymore. For others, you are about to get in your pre-finished poinsettias from
another grower who didn't have enough to do over the summer. And for the crazy
ones, you are tending carefully the poinsettias you have potted up from
cuttings the past couple of months.

Timing

September is a very critical month for many growers and
garden centers. It is really the start of the fall selling season, even though
stores have been selling mums, perennials, and some pansies since July. If the
weather is still hot in September, the fall season gets off to a slow start.
This is somewhat common in California and much of the Southeast. Not until a
cool front comes through and consumers get a breath of cool air will they come
back to the stores looking for fall plants. If their spring/summer plantings
still look good, they may wait even longer to replant.

Here in the Midwest, the fall season kicks off right after
Labor Day weekend. The summer is officially over, pools are closed, kids are in
school, and vacations are a distant memory. We sell fall crops from the
beginning of September until Halloween. In the Front Range of the Rockies
(Denver, Salt Lake City), their fall season starts in July and finishes by
mid-September, as the stores are afraid of the first snowfall after that. In
the Southeast, the fall season goes from mid-September until spring starts
again. In California, the fall selling season may be delayed until October due
to hot weather and wildfires.

Regardless of when it starts and how long the fall season
lasts, the big question is: Are you ready for it? I mean, do you have a good
crop to sell or can you buy in from another producer? Have you cleaned up from
spring and summer, and do you have your fall displays set up? Do you have your
personnel trained to answer fall planting questions from consumers? And if you
are a grower, have you hit your specs for mums, pansies and other crops? Or did
you have some problems here and there?

Predicting the Weather

In the heat, it is difficult to produce a quality pansy
crop. The plants want to stretch, flop over, not branch, and flower early but
small. Once the weather cools down, the plants branch more, flower later, but
have larger flowers. That is the weather that pansies like. Mums, on the other
hand, can handle hot weather, but may be delayed in flowering. Cool weather and
short days promote early flowering but short plants. With all of the different
varieties available, growers are sure to find ones that will do well in their
area for the pot sizes they sell. Other crops sold in the fall include
flowering kale and cabbage, dianthus, snapdragons, petunias and perennials. All
of these crops need to be of reasonable size (but not flopping over!) and in
color to be sold. Flowering kale and cabbage will need cool nights (low 50s) to
color up greatly, but should be controlled with a Bonzi drench at 2 – 4
ppm and worm-free. Dianthus, snaps, and petunias will do well if your days are
not too short for them to flower. Perennials left over from spring and summer
should be cleaned up, not too tall, and still healthy in order to be sold. Oh,
did I mention that they need to be in flower as well?

If your crops do not look good to you, imagine what they
look like to a consumer. This is important for the beginning of the fall
season, when it is tougher to have good-looking plants. Don't hold onto junk,
when you can bring in better-looking stuff to replace it. It is difficult to put
your best foot forward in the beginning of the fall season when the weather is
still hot, but you better get in step quickly thereafter or forget about
selling fall crops.

Something Different

Are your customers looking for something different besides
mums and pansies? How much more of the minor crops are you willing to produce?
Can you offer something different, such as new crops or new combinations? Have
you noticed that Proven Winners' Fall Magic program now contains more flower
color? People still want color even in the fall, so provide them different
options. Remember, combo containers should be different than what was available
in spring and summer, so work with different crops and colors appropriate for
fall. And, what can you offer for Halloween? This holiday is now the 2nd most
decorated holiday in the U.S. Besides pumpkins, cornstalks and gourds, there
are a lot of different colors and combinations that can be set up just for
Halloween.

So, with the fall season upon us, it's a great time to be
outdoors. I consider fall to be my 2nd favorite season, after spring. I love
the smell, the leaves turning color, the crisper days and nights and football
in the air. I don't mind working in the yard at all. I'm sure your customers
feel the same way. So, provide them the color they want and need, and help them
be successful. By the way, don't forget about those poinsettias while you are
having all this fun!

About The Author

Dr. Roger C. Styer is the industry's leading production consultant and president of Styer's Horticultural Consulting, Inc., Batavia, Ill. He can be reached by phone (630) 208-0542 or E-mail: carleton@voyager.net.

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