Plant Health — No Excuse for Unhealthy Plants By Spencer Foster

The key to producing a healthy root system on your plants takes patience as well as selecting the right tools and then knowing how to use them correctly.

A 2018 study by the U.S. Department of Commerce revealed a steady rise in the sales of plants, shrubs and plant seeds as more Americans take an interest in gardening. With a higher interest, they’ve also spent more time researching what to look for — an even distribution of flowers with a healthy root system. With customers taking more time to research the best options, how can growers make sure they are delivering the best product for their customers?

A strong, healthy root system is key to the survival of any seasonal flower, ornamental shrub or other specialty plant and nobody knows this better than Jeff Watson, head grower at Baucom’s Nursery in Charlotte, North Carolina. Jeff is part of a team responsible for making sure that each plant is ready to go when they head off to the nursery’s regional retail partners and customers.

“We have to make sure our plants go out the door with no excuse,” says Jeff. “If a customer buys something from us and the roots don’t take and the plant dies, that customer probably won’t come back.”

The majority of the business at Baucom’s is pay-by-scan, so their sales and customer retention are contingent on having a high-quality product year after year. This can provide unique challenges for Jeff each step of the way, from propagation to insect prevention.

So how does Jeff ensure that his plants go out without any excuses?


For Jeff, it all starts with giving the plant plenty of time to grow. “Many places can be eager to sell, sending product out the door before the plant has time to take root, but you need to be patient,” says Jeff. “If you want customers to come back, you can’t give them a quick sale with half-rooted plants.”

Baucom’s Nursery starts growing their plants a little ahead of schedule to make sure they are ready when the customers are ready. By taking the time to ensure a healthy root, there’s a higher likelihood that the plant will take and thrive in its new environment.

In addition to timing, Baucom’s uses a combination of custom blend incorporated and liquid fertilizers in order to build a nice base. From there, they follow recommendations from breeders for optimal greenhouse conditions. If they notice the top coming in too early, they’ll trim back until the roots have fully developed.


Once the plant starts growing, they can attract insects and diseases, which can also threaten the plant’s overall health. “In the past, there haven’t been many choices, so you were forced to use the same chemicals over and over,” says Jeff, which led to the pests building a resistance to the chemicals. Now, with a variety of products available, he maintains control over his crops without having to rely on any one insecticide.

With the advancement of preventative tools in recent years, Jeff is also able to prevent the spread of pest populations before they even start. “I don’t wait until I see an issue, because by then, it’s already too late,” says Jeff.

“Every greenhouse has something ready to ship, so we can’t afford to close a house down due to pests.” Jeff follows a two-week preventative program which includes BASF’s Pageant Intrinsic fungicide, which proves to be much less expensive than waiting until there’s an issue.

For that last layer of extra protection, Jeff sprays down his plants a few hours before they go off to Baucom’s Nursery’s retail partners across the southeast region. That final round can make all the difference as the plants sit on shelves with product from other nurseries that may not put forth the same effort when it comes to pest control.

Get to Know Your Customers

Having a healthy root system isn’t the only important thing when it comes to customer retention. Jeff is a firm believer in the importance of standing by your products at all stages of growth, including when it has already gone off to a customer. For Jeff, this meant visiting a site after a customer expressed issues with a plant not taking root.

“If your product goes out questionable and you get complaints, you eat the costs,” says Jeff. Upon further inspection at the site, they found that the customer had been planting on a mounded bed of red clay without proper irrigation.

“They were essentially planting in a ceramic bowl,” says Jeff of the plant bed. “We recommended they re-prep the bed with a potting mix blend.”

By going the extra mile to visit customers to address their problems, Jeff and Baucom’s Nursery keep customers coming back year after year.

For more information on Baucom’s Nursery, please Additional information on Pageant Intrinsic fungicide can be found at