Odds and Ends By Roger C. Styer

The final word

It’s October already, with the fall season well underway allover the United States. Most people are tired of raking leaves but willing todecorate for Halloween. Football season is almost halfway over, and the kidsare already tired of school. Well, this month I don’t have a single theme towrite about, so I thought I would put some odds and ends together that I haverun into over the past few months and are appropriate for this season. You canchew on them while finishing up the fall season or taking care of thepoinsettias.

Time to Lease?

Why don’t some of the large growers just lease garden centerspace from the big box stores because in some parts of the country, the largegrower is doing more and more for this customer. Some of the items this wouldaddress are: 1) frequent truck deliveries; 2) merchandisers in each store; 3)restocking; 4) answering questions from customers; 5) rebates for advertising;6) guaranteed sales; 7) special programs (includes plants, pots, labels orcontainers); and 8) even watering plants.

Growers end up doing everything except ringing up the salesthemselves, so why not just take over the space, make improvements, keep itwell stocked with your own plants and have your own well-trained peopleservicing the customers? The box stores are interested in more people cominginto their stores, and they view the garden center as a draw and a profitcenter of some sorts. I think some of the large growers could do a better jobof running the garden center.

Fall Crops

The over-emphasis on fall mums and pansies is getting old.Most people do not view fall mums as a perennial but treat them as annuals withcolor lasting for a few weeks before cold weather really sets in. Fall pansiesdo well in plantings in the fall and again during the spring, but even with allof the colors now available, pansies in some markets are not selling as well asthey used to.

People are growing tired of the limited choices. Growersneed to look into different plants that do well in the fall and cool weather butcan be treated as annuals. Snaps, dianthus, kale and cabbage, dusty miller andeven some petunias will do fine at this time of year. There are also somevegetative crops that show good color until a killing freeze. Again, peoplewant to replace their large containers in the fall with more color. What do youhave to offer that is different and colorful?

Poinsettia Proliferation

With the good poinsettia cutting season we had this pastyear, I would expect a glut of finished poinsettias on the market. There willbe another battle of low-priced poinsettias in some box stores (five for $10),and some parts of the country will have price battles of their own due tooversupply. Weather conditions during shipping and selling will also affectsales. More and more growers will be complaining about not making any money onpoinsettias.

I had an interesting discussion with Bill Swanekamp fromKube-Pak Corp., a client of mine. Bill gave a good talk at this past OFA ShortCourse on figuring out overhead costs. His calculations demonstrated that only15 percent of his costs and sales were recognized from July to December,although it is common to calculate an average cost per square-foot-week for theyear. With this old method of calculating costs, it was difficult to demonstratethat growing fall crops was profitable. To quote Bill, “With this newmethod, it is easy to see that crops grown in the fall are actually profitablesince a different value for overhead is used in the fall than in thespring.” Maybe more growers need to recalculate their overhead costs,looking at spring separate from fall. I think fewer growers would becomplaining about not making money after they recalculate their overhead asBill did.

Display Woes

It has been demonstrated time and time again that betterplant displays result in more sales. By better displays, I mean fresh plantswith appropriate information about consumer care being watered properly and setup in interesting positions easily reached by shoppers.

During the spring, more and more stores and garden centersemphasize their displays of spring plants. Why doesn’t this carry over topoinsettias? I get so upset when I visit different stores, whether it is boxstores, grocery chains or retail garden centers and see how poorly they displayand take care of their poinsettias. You cannot make an attractive display whenpoinsettias are still in their sleeves or boxes!

Mass color always attracts people. Group white poinsettiasaround the purple varieties, and see how much more purple you sell. (For ahigher price, I hope!) Use contrasting colors to make up your displays. Workwith the big box stores, using your own merchandisers to improve the display,care and handling of poinsettias. You spend 3-4 months growing this crop; I’msure you don’t want to see it ruined within a day or two of getting to thestore.

Visiting a Trial

This past June, I had the privilege of visiting Park SeedCompany’s field trial during its annual open house. I was very surprised to seehow some of the different crops and varieties performed in this year’s wetspring. All of the vinca varieties looked great! But what interested me themost was the appearance of bacterial leaf spot on a number of zinnia varieties.It was a great opportunity to see which varieties were resistant to thisdisease, as some varieties were entirely infected while a variety right next toit was not infected at all.

This is just one of the things growers can learn whenvisiting a trial, whether a field, pack or pot trial. Take advantage of nearby trialsto learn what you can about the crops you are growing or want to grow. Thereare many good field trials across the country. If you can’t make it to theCalifornia Pack Trials, find a field trial in your part of the country. If yougrow a lot of poinsettias, you should visit Purdue University, North CarolinaState University or University of Florida to see the National Trials, or yourlocal university to see a more limited trial.

Well, that takes care of the odds and ends for now. I’m sureI’ll have some more in the next few months. I would be interested to hear fromyou about any of the above, or other topics that should be considered. Afterall, my best information for this column comes from discussions with differentgrowers around the country.

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Roger C. Styer

Roger Styer is president of Styer's HorticulturalConsulting, Inc., Batavia, Ill. He can be reached by phone at (630) 208-0542 orE-mail at [email protected]

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