Getting Off To a Good Start By Roger C. Styer

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


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

* Checkall orders, whether for seed, cuttings, liners or other plants. Keep a file ofwhat was ordered, acknowledgements, order changes and what was actuallyshipped. 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 areshipped or shortages occur.

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

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

* Ifyou grow your own plugs, make sure to use up old seed first and maybe evendouble-seed if necessary. Too often, growers depend on exact numbers from thatold seed. Figure on half of what you sow actually germinating. Use up that oldseed 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.

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

* Ifyou are just starting up some greenhouses this winter, please, please, pleasecheck the integrity of your heaters! This plea applies to greenhouses with unitheaters. Every year, I get a couple of calls from growers about their plantsnot growing properly in February and looks like either too much ethylene orherbicide. Inevitably, the problem was caused by a leaky heater or improperventilation. Those little holes in the pipes are hard to find sometimes.

* Youwill find out pretty soon if your weed control last fall was effective andearly enough to prevent reseeding. One difficulty we have with coveredgreenhouses is that there is no labeled pre-emergent herbicide we can use. Thatmeans you could have controlled your weeds fine last fall but will face anonslaught of new weeds this spring once you start watering.

* Beforeyou 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 canspray the ground with Adept, Distance, Duraguard or Knox-Out (if you still havesome) or treat with lime, copper sulfate or rock salt. Your weapon of choiceshould be determined by whether you grow on the ground or on benches. Any ofthe above treatments will be good for at least one month against fungus gnatsand shoreflies, as well as thrips.

* Getyour water source, acid-treated water and fertilizer solution tested by areliable lab. Also, send media samples to a lab before planting and again after2-3 weeks to determine pH, EC and nutrients. Make sure your injectors areworking properly by testing at least weekly.

A Few More Thoughts

Finally, review the growing plans that you have developedover 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 doyou know how to grow that crop successfully every time? How are you going totrain another person to grow that crop without having to stand by them all thetime and look over their shoulder? Written growing plans for each crop are amust for success! Start writing things down this year, and put the informationinto a format that everyone can understand.

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

Roger C. Styer

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 [email protected]

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