Getting Off To a Good Start

January 22, 2004 - 13:10

The final word

Well, the new year has come and gone, and now it's time to
get to work on the new spring season. Growers in warmer climates are already
growing and selling bedding plants, while most growers in colder climates are
sowing plugs, planting geraniums and other rooted liners, and getting ready for
mass transplanting. So, whether you are knee-deep in growing or just knee-deep
in snow, it's always good to review what you need to do to get off to a good


Starting a new growing season is a lot like flying an
airplane. You need a checklist to review before you take off. Otherwise, you
forget some critical things, delays occur, you run out of flats or soil,
receive the wrong varieties, or put in the wrong numbers on your production
plan. Sound familiar? Well, here is the checklist I give to my clients to help
avoid critical mistakes:

*                     Check
all orders, whether for seed, cuttings, liners or other plants. Keep a file of
what was ordered, acknowledgements, order changes and what was actually
shipped. Make sure to review any order changes to see if you agree with them.
Too often, papers pile up, and no one looks at them until the wrong things are
shipped or shortages occur.

*                     Make
sure you have all of your mixes either ordered or already shipped to you. Peat
shortages will occur this year, especially Eastern Canadian peat, and will
affect the spot-market late in the season. In seasons like this, you may get
late orders, but the quality of the peat will be questionable.

*                     Make
sure you have all of your hard goods ordered or already in-house, including
pots, flats and labels. Check your label order to make sure it is accurate. You
can no longer afford to be late with your labels or to use the wrong one.

*                     If
you grow your own plugs, make sure to use up old seed first and maybe even
double-seed if necessary. Too often, growers depend on exact numbers from that
old seed. Figure on half of what you sow actually germinating. Use up that old
seed and get into the new seed fast! Try not to order too much seed each year,
and keep good records on what you use and don't use.

*                     If
you grow your own plugs, make sure to focus on that task. Whether it's the
owner or someone else, the job needs to be done right — first time and
every time! I see many cases of the first turn of plugs getting off to poor
starts, whether from seeding, germination or growing conditions. Just remember,
for every plug tray you mess up, it will cost you about $20 to purchase
replacement plugs from a plug supplier.

*                     If
you are just starting up some greenhouses this winter, please, please, please
check the integrity of your heaters! This plea applies to greenhouses with unit
heaters. Every year, I get a couple of calls from growers about their plants
not growing properly in February and looks like either too much ethylene or
herbicide. Inevitably, the problem was caused by a leaky heater or improper
ventilation. Those little holes in the pipes are hard to find sometimes.

*                     You
will find out pretty soon if your weed control last fall was effective and
early enough to prevent reseeding. One difficulty we have with covered
greenhouses is that there is no labeled pre-emergent herbicide we can use. That
means you could have controlled your weeds fine last fall but will face an
onslaught of new weeds this spring once you start watering.

*                     Before
you start laying down flats or pots, make sure to treat the soil surface,
whether covered with ground cover or benches, for fungus gnats and shoreflies.
This is especially important if you just got finished poinsettias. You can
spray the ground with Adept, Distance, Duraguard or Knox-Out (if you still have
some) or treat with lime, copper sulfate or rock salt. Your weapon of choice
should be determined by whether you grow on the ground or on benches. Any of
the above treatments will be good for at least one month against fungus gnats
and shoreflies, as well as thrips.

*                     Get
your water source, acid-treated water and fertilizer solution tested by a
reliable lab. Also, send media samples to a lab before planting and again after
2-3 weeks to determine pH, EC and nutrients. Make sure your injectors are
working properly by testing at least weekly.

A Few More Thoughts

Finally, review the growing plans that you have developed
over the past year or so before you start growing those particular crops.
What's that, you say you don't have written growing plans for each crop? How do
you know how to grow that crop successfully every time? How are you going to
train another person to grow that crop without having to stand by them all the
time and look over their shoulder? Written growing plans for each crop are a
must for success! Start writing things down this year, and put the information
into a format that everyone can understand.

Now that you have finished your checklist, it's time to go
out there and get your hands dirty. You can feel safe in flying the airplane
knowing that you checked out everything before you took off. If only we could
figure an easy way of avoiding those thunderstorms while flying, we could have
an easy season of growing. Working with and around Mother Nature is the biggest
obstacle we face each season. But, that's a topic for another month!

About The Author

Roger C. Styer is president of Styer's Horticultural Consulting, Inc., Batavia, Ill. He can be reached by phone at (630) 208-0542 or E-mail at

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