Fall is upon Us By Roger C. Styer

The final word

Now that the kids are back in school, the fall season isupon us. That means producing and selling mums, pansies, perennials and otherfall crops. Oh, and by the way, you can’t forget about growing yourpoinsettias! For some of you (the smart ones), you don’t grow poinsettiasanymore. For others, you are about to get in your pre-finished poinsettias fromanother grower who didn’t have enough to do over the summer. And for the crazyones, you are tending carefully the poinsettias you have potted up fromcuttings the past couple of months.


September is a very critical month for many growers andgarden centers. It is really the start of the fall selling season, even thoughstores have been selling mums, perennials, and some pansies since July. If theweather 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 acool front comes through and consumers get a breath of cool air will they comeback to the stores looking for fall plants. If their spring/summer plantingsstill look good, they may wait even longer to replant.

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

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

Predicting the Weather

In the heat, it is difficult to produce a quality pansycrop. The plants want to stretch, flop over, not branch, and flower early butsmall. Once the weather cools down, the plants branch more, flower later, buthave larger flowers. That is the weather that pansies like. Mums, on the otherhand, can handle hot weather, but may be delayed in flowering. Cool weather andshort days promote early flowering but short plants. With all of the differentvarieties available, growers are sure to find ones that will do well in theirarea for the pot sizes they sell. Other crops sold in the fall includeflowering kale and cabbage, dianthus, snapdragons, petunias and perennials. Allof these crops need to be of reasonable size (but not flopping over!) and incolor to be sold. Flowering kale and cabbage will need cool nights (low 50s) tocolor up greatly, but should be controlled with a Bonzi drench at 2 – 4ppm and worm-free. Dianthus, snaps, and petunias will do well if your days arenot too short for them to flower. Perennials left over from spring and summershould 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 theylook like to a consumer. This is important for the beginning of the fallseason, 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 putyour best foot forward in the beginning of the fall season when the weather isstill hot, but you better get in step quickly thereafter or forget aboutselling fall crops.

Something Different

Are your customers looking for something different besidesmums 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? Haveyou noticed that Proven Winners’ Fall Magic program now contains more flowercolor? People still want color even in the fall, so provide them differentoptions. Remember, combo containers should be different than what was availablein spring and summer, so work with different crops and colors appropriate forfall. And, what can you offer for Halloween? This holiday is now the 2nd mostdecorated holiday in the U.S. Besides pumpkins, cornstalks and gourds, thereare a lot of different colors and combinations that can be set up just forHalloween.

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

Roger C. Styer

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: [email protected]

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