Saturday, January 31, 2009

Turf and Landscape - Compost Cubic Yards Needed to Cover an Area

The following are are some tables showing how much compost will be needed to cover an area of a given size at different depths.


•¼ INCH LAYER = approx. 34 CUBIC YARDS
•½ INCH LAYER = approx. 67 CUBIC YARDS
•1 INCH LAYER = approx. 134 CUBIC YARDS
•1 1/2 INCH LAYER = approx. 201 CUBIC YARDS
•2 INCH LAYER = approx. 269 CUBIC YARDS
•2 1/2 INCH LAYER = approx. 335 CUBIC YARDS
•3 INCH LAYER = approx. 402 CUBIC YARDS


•¼ INCH LAYER = approx. 0.75 CUBIC YARDS
•½ INCH LAYER = approx. 1.5 CUBIC YARDS
•1 INCH LAYER = approx. 3.0 CUBIC YARDS
•11/2 INCH LAYER = approx. 4.5 CUBIC YARDS
•2 INCH LAYER = approx. 6.0 CUBIC YARDS
•21/2 INCH LAYER = approx. 7.5 CUBIC YARDS
•3 INCH LAYER = approx. 9.0 CUBIC YARDS

Turf and Landscape - Compaction

Soil compaction is one of the major problems affecting plant growth in turf and landscape areas. Soils are compacted by equipment traffic during construction, equipment and vehicle traffic over top of areas in existing landscapes, foot traffic, soil movement, tilling soils when they are too wet, and mishandling soils. The following are some of the consequences of compaction.

•Compaction destroys soil structure; increases soil bulk density; increases small pore space, decreases large pore space. This will reduce plant rooting because fine roots cannot grow into compacted soils.
•Compaction contributes to lower air porosity, lack of soil aeration; increases carbon dioxide in soil; and decreases oxygen diffusion. Again, this reduces plant rooting by reducing the ability of plant roots to respire and therefore grow.
•Compaction contributes to reduced water infiltration and percolation; increases surface water runoff; increases water evaporative losses; decreases drought hardiness; and increases need for irrigation. Compaction will reduce water entering in soils and reduce rooting of plants thus causing more water stress.
•Compaction causes greater soil temperature extremes; Increases heat conductivity and canopy temperatures of turf.
•Compaction decreases nutrient uptake; decreases nitrogen use efficiency; and increases need for fertilization. By limiting rooting, plants have reduced soil area to extract mineral nutrients from.
•Compaction decreases soil applied pesticide effectiveness; increases weed pressure by compaction tolerant weeds, increases need for herbicides, and increases the need for fungicides to control soil borne diseases.
•Compaction limits rooting, decreases plants’ stored food reserves, and increases plant susceptibility to wilt and disease.

Gordon Johnson, Extension Horticulture Agent, UD, Kent County

Friday, January 30, 2009

Greenhouse - Thrips, Thrips, Thrips

Thrips are a very important pest of greenhouse crops, largely because they spread viruses. Control can sometimes be difficult and they can become resistant to insecticides. The following is a great article on the subject from the University of Maryland.

Thrips Control

For the last 10 years many growers have been relying on spinosyn materials (Conserve) to control thrips in greenhouses. We have been warning growers not to rely on just one product to control this pest group because of chance of development of resistance. The resistance problem is being detected in greenhouses in North America. Dow AgroScience voluntarily suspended the sale and use of spinosyn insecticides in Broward and Palm Beach County in Florida as of August 14, 2008. This is a warning shot over the bow of the boat. It would be best to look for alternative control measures.

Early in the season:

In January through April thrips are generally present at relatively low numbers in most greenhouses unless you maintained a large weed population under your bench or maintained stock plants in the greenhouse loaded with thrips over the winter. When populations are low, usually measured by 1 - 2 adult thrips per sticky card, it would be best to use one of the neem insecticides such as Azatin, Neemix, or Aza-Direct mixed with BotaniGard or neem insecticide mixed with Naturalis-O can give good control when a thrips population is relatively low.

Here are some of the products that can be used to rotate between to control thrips:

􀂃 Abamectin
􀂃 Acephate (Orthene)
􀂃 Bifenthrin (Talstar)
􀂃 Chlorfenapyr (Pylon) (5 oz/100 gallons for low populations. For high populations use 10 -15 oz/100 gallons)
􀂃 Fluvalinate (Mavrik)
􀂃 Kinoprene (Enstar II)
􀂃 Methiocarb (Mesurol)
􀂃 Novaluron (Pedestal)
􀂃 Spinosad (Conserve – Dow Agro Science))
􀂃 Pyridalyl (Overature – Valent Company)

Overture 35 WP (active ingredient pyridalyl) by Valent Company can be used to target two pests in greenhouses - thrips and caterpillars. Overture was labeled for use in greenhouses in 2008. This material works by contact action and has translaminar properties. It is applied as a foliar spray. The label rate for thrips is 8 oz per 100 gallons and it has a 12 hour Re-entry Interval (REI). One thing we have noticed with the product is that control of thrips is often not seen for 7 to 14 days after treatment. Overture should be considered most effective when used as a preventative treatment or as a rotation product. Overture should be a good product to use in rotation with Conserve, Pylon and other thrips insecticides

Reprinted from the January 23, 2009 edition of the Greenhouse TPM/IPM Bi-Weekly Report, University of Maryland Cooperative Extension, Central Maryland Research and Education Center

Landscape and Turf - Compost Benefits

Composts is a great soil amendment because it improves soils resulting in better plant growth and performance. The following are some of the benefits of compost:

Compost Improves Soils Leading to Improved Plant Growth and Performance

Physical Soil Improvements
  • Builds soil structure
    + Improves pore space distribution
  • Improves moisture management
    + Improved water holding capacity
    + Improved drainage
  • Improves aeration
    + Improves root function by increasing aeration
  • Reduces bulk density
    + Reduced compaction, better rooting
Chemical soil improvements
  • Modifies and stabilizes pH
  • Increases cation exchange capacity (mineral nutrient holding capacity)
  • Complexes with mineral nutrients (natural chelation of micronutrients)
  • Supplies nutrients, slow release N source
  • Binds/degrades soil contaminants

Biological soil improvements

  • Supplies soil biota with food source, promotes growth of beneficial soil organisms (plant roots, soil animals, soil microbes)
  • Suppresses plant diseases

Gordon Johnson, Extension Agriculture Agent, UD, Kent County

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Training Offer

Delaware Cooperative Extension is willing to come to you.

If you have 10 or more people, we will conduct a workshop at your site on insects, diseases, weeds, cultural problems, sustainable landscapes, business skills or other nursery or landscape industry topics that interest you and your employees.

Scheduling is based on availability of the instructor with expertise in the topic you choose. Contact your local County Extension Agent: Carrie Murphy (302-831-2506), Gordon Johnson (302-730-4000), or Tracy Wootten (302-856-7303) for scheduling a workshop.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Nursery and Greenhouse - What Will Replace Plastic Pots

The following is an article from the University of Maryland on the trend to move away from plastic pots which are not biodegradable. This is because of an increase in plastic costs, the move toward a more "green" approach in the industry, and the need to keep plastics out of landfills.

Are Plastic Pots Dying Out?

There were several displays at the MANTS show in January featuring environmentally friendly pots. There is a rapid rush toward alternatives to plastic pots. Everything from pots made from chicken feathers, coir pots, wheat based pots and neem-based pots are being looked at as possibilities.

A real revolution occurred in the green industry back in the 1960s when cheap, lightweight, plastic pots caught on and growers were able to offer plants throughout the year. The plastic pots enabled mechanized production of plants. The problem has been that when fuel prices spiked in 2008 plastic pots became painfully expensive. A second major hurdle is how to re-cycle these pots that are often coated with dirt.

Plastic pots still have a lot of good points including the fact that they hold up very well for outdoor container perennials production, outdoor annual production systems and tree/ shrub production. They are tough and can take rough handling much better that some of the environmentally friendly pots now on the market.

The new environmentally pots still have a way to go to replace plastic pots but have no doubt the days of the plastic pot are numbered. Some people have experimented with thinner plastic pots that use less plastic, costing less money than standard pots. This reduces cost but is difficult to use with mechanized potting systems. Though they use less plastic there is still a problem with disposal of the pots after planting.

There is also a split between companies over which is more environmentally sound - producing compostable pots or making bio-degradable pots. Some feel that compostable pots really don’t break down unless composted in a commercial facility and rarely break down in home compost piles. Most of the bio-degradable pots can be directly planted into the soil by the consumer. The problem has been that the pots made of materials that are bio-degradable do not hold up well in the garden center when customers grab the pots by the lip. Manufacturers are developing ways to get around this issue with carrier trays made of materials like re-cycled paper or plant based plastic-like sleeves. The pots are marketed so the customer does not handle the bio-degradable pots until they get them home and plants the whole pot into the soil. This is an interesting development but it still means that a grower has to handle the bio-degradable pot very carefully to avoid breaking the pot apart. It does not lend itself easily to mechanized potting or handling.

At the MANTS show I asked a couple of growers what type of pot would interest their customers and which ones they would probably purchase. Garden center operators commented that a pot must display well and hold up well in the garden center. This is an absolute must. They also want a pot that can have a bar-code printed on the pot. Most said that environmentally friendly pots would sell well and customers are environmentally concerned about plastic pots. Garden center owners are very well aware that in 2009 people will be price conscious so the price of the environmentally friendly pot has to be competitive with plastic.

Production growers commented that a pot must be tough, not easily crushed or misshapen, lends itself to mechanized potting, and must be inexpensive. This is a tall order, and I did not see anything in the marketplace that fits all of these requirements at this point. Give the manufacturers a chance and I am sure they will meet this challenge. It may be difficult to transition out of plastic pots in 2009 because of the ailing economy but in the long run growers can expect to see more alternative pots enter the marketplace, and the pressure to rely less and less on plastic pots will increase.

Reprinted from the January 23, 2009 Greenhouse TPM/IPM Bi-Weekly Report from the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension, Central Maryland Research and Education Center

Greenhouse and Nursery - Know your Fertilizer Calculations

When using liquid feed for greenhouse and nursery plants, it is important to know how to prepare stock solutions for your fertilizer injector. The following is an example of how to go about these calculations.

You have a 1:200 fertilizer injector and a fertilizer with an analysis of 15-16-17 (%N-%P2O5-%K2O). You want to apply a 250 ppm solution of nitrogen at each watering. How many ounces of fertilizer would you have to weigh out to make 1 gallon of concentrate?

A. To solve the problem:

1. List all the variables:
a. Desired concentration in parts per million (ppm) = 250.
b. Injector ratio = 1:200; dilution factor = 200.
c. Fertilizer analysis = 15-16-17 (15% N).
d. Ounces of fertilizer to make 1 gallon of concentrate = X (unknown). Use 75 as the conversion constant C.

Conversion constants
Ounces per U.S. gallon = 75
Pounds per U.S. gallon = 1200
Grams per liter = 10

2. Set up and solve the problem

Amount of fertilizer to make 1 volume of stock solution =
(Desired concentration in parts per million x Dilution Factor) divided by
(% of element in fertilizer x Conversion constant)

X= (250 ppm N x 200)/(15% N x 75)= 50,000/1,125 = 44.44 (about 44½ oz./gal.)

B. Answer: add 44½ ounces of 15-16-17 to a stock solution bucket and fill to the 1 gallon mark.

Many growers do not have access to an accurate scale for weighing fertilizers. Since most commercially formulated N-P-K fertilizers are packaged in 25-pound bags, we can easily determine how many gallons of stock solution to mix up from 1 bag of fertilizer:

1. Convert 25 pounds into the equivalent amount of ounces:

25 pounds/bag x 16 ounces/pound = 400 ounces/bag

2. Using the information in Example 1, we then divide 400 by 44½ to get the number of gallons of stock needed:

400 ounces/bag 44½ ounces/gallon = 8.99 (about 9 gallons/bag)

Thus, one 25-pound bag of 15-16-17 fertilizer will make 9 gallons of stock for a 250 ppm N solution when using a 1:200 injector.

Example from "Fertilizer Calculations for Greenhouse Crops" by Thomas H. Boyle, Dept. Plant and Soil Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Monday, January 26, 2009

Business - Surviving and Thriving in Tight Times Workshop Series Coming Up

The following is information on a series of workshops to be held in Dover on horticultural business survival in tight times. This is a part of the Ornamental Short Course series from Delaware Cooperative Extension.

Business Survival in Tight Times

February, 5, 12, 19, 26
Time: 12 noon—3 p.m.
Location: Kent County Extension Office, Dover, DE (Paradee Center next to DelDOT)
Cost: $35
Lunch: Light lunch included.
Registration: Register by calling (302) 730-4000

Horticultural business owners and managers should mark your calendars for a series on surviving and thriving in these tough economic times. Landscapers, landscape maintenance firms, lawn care companies, nurseries, greenhouses, garden centers and other horticultural businesses will benefit from these workshops.

Come join us for lunch, learn about approaches to help your businesses in tough economic conditions, and participate in discussions on topics that are important to your business.

This series is designed to help small businesses evaluate their bottom line, determine portions of their enterprise that are profitable, implement cost cutting procedures, manage employees under difficult conditions and prioritize how to deliver products and services successfully to your customers.


February 5 = Business analysis
February 12 = Cost control
February 19 = Labor management and customer service
February 26 = Business opportunities and entrepreneurship

Instructors: Gordon Johnson and Susan Barton

Gordon Johnson, Extension Horticulture Agent, UD, Kent County

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Business - Contingency Plans for Horticultural Businesses II - Labor Contingency Planning

In a down economy, horticultural businesses may have to reduce or eliminate labor, reduce employee hours, reduce salaries, or lay off employees. You need to have a contingency plan in place for these situations. The following are some points to consider.
  • Determine what people assets are critical for you to keep? List why they are critical.
  • Determine who could “afford” a salary cut including you and family members in the business.
  • Determine who could undertake more responsibility.
  • Identify who are your definite keepers.
  • Make a plan so that you know if you had to cut 10 percent of your workforce, what your severance policy would be.
  • Plan how you would you treat departing people so as to engender trust, respect, and loyalty of those remaining.
  • Plan how would you implement a people “cut”.

Information from Ed Hess, Professor of Business Administration, Darden School of Business, University of Virginia.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Business - Comercial Composting as a Business Opportunity: Pictures

We recently had a good talk about commercial composting from Ned Foley, Two Particular Acres Farm in Pennsylvania. The following are some pictures of different compost methods that Ned has used.

Windrow system using a tractor loader to turn.

Windrow system using a windrow turning machine.

Covering windrows to reduce vapor escape

Building a forced air compost pile.

Completed force air compost pile

Friday, January 23, 2009

Greenhouse and Nursery - Checking Your Fertilizer Injectors

Fertilizer injectors are a key component of liquid feed programs in greenhouses and nurseries. The following is a short article reminding you to check your fertilizer injectors for accuracy on a regular basis from the New England Greenhouse Update.

An injector setting of 1:100 means that 1 gallon of fertilizer concentrate makes 100 gallons of final solution. It does not mean that the injector is delivering 100 parts per million (ppm) nitrogen. Many injectors have a dual settings, in percent and ratio. A 1 percent setting is the same as a 1:100 ratio, a 2 percent setting is the same as a 1:50 ratio and a 0.5 percent setting is the same as a 1:200 ratio. To make the appropriate concentrate for a specific injector setting, determine the amount of fertilizer to dissolve per gallon of water. This can be done by using a chart or calculating it yourself. Note that fertilizer should be measured by weight for mixing, not volume. Also, fertilizer solution color is not a reliable gauge for fertilizer concentration.

Fertilizer injectors should be checked periodically to be sure they are operating accurately. This can be done by testing the electrical conductivity (EC) of the fertilizer solution. To check a fertilizer solution, use a good conductivity meter or send a sample to your State University soil test laboratory.

Procedure to check the EC of a fertilizer solution:

  • Let plain water (no fertilizer) run a little, then collect water in a clean bucket.
  • Take a sample of the plain water from the bucket. Check the EC of the untreated water supply.
  • Mix up your fertilizer as you normally do and run it through the injector and hose. Let it run a little to be sure you get an accurate sample.
  • Take a sample of the fertilizer-injected water from the end of the hose and use your meter or soil test laboratory to check the EC of the sample.
  • Subract the EC value of the untreated water from the EC value of the fertilizer water.
  • Compare the results to an EC chart from the fertilizer manufacturer or fertilizer bag. The chart will correlate the EC measurement with the ppm Nitrogen so you can determine if your injector and mixing procedure is accurate.

Reprinted from "Checking Your Fertilizer Injector" by Tina Smith, University of Massachusetts in the January 13, 2009 post on the New England Greenhouse Update site

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Greenhouse - Fertilizing Easter Lilies

Those greenhouse growers who are growing easter lilies know that once they start to put on some size, they need a good nitrogen supply. The following are some fertilization recommendations for Easter lilies at this time of year from the University of Maryland.

Fertility of Easter Lilies in January

Easter lily plants need fertilizer early in the crop cycle to produce vigorous plant with large, dark leaf size and to have vigorous stem expansion. Calcium nitrate fertilizer should be applied at 300 – 400 ppm regularly. The problem is that in January when we have dark weather it is often impossible to make an adequate number of liquid fertilizer applications because the soil does not dry out quickly enough. The best method to prevent nitrogen deficiency is to top dress with a controlled release fertilizer such as Osmocote. Some growers will apply Nitroform at ½ teaspoon per 6” pot in mid- January, spreading it around the surface of the substrate in the pot and not piling it up in one spot. They will often reapply the Nitorform in mid-February. Check the soluble salt levels weekly. These levels should be maintained around 1.5 – 2.0 micromohs per square centimeters using a 1:2 soil/water dilution method. This level will be slightly higher if using the pour-thru method.

Reprinted from the January 9, 2009 edition of the Greenhouse TPM/IPM Bi-Weekly Report from the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension, Central Maryland Research and Education Center

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Landscape - Plants with Interesting Winter Features VI

The following is a continuation the series on plants with interesting winter features for Delaware landscapes. This post is on Daphne.

Daphne ×transatlantica (formerly Daphne caucasica) is a wonderfully scented small shrub, growing to about 4’ by 4’. Fragrant white May or June flowers cover the attractive somewhat grey green leaves which generally remain throughout the year. Flowers continue until frost and may sporadically appear during any warm days of winter. It grows best in partial shade with excellent drainage. Hardy in zones 5-9.

Daphne odora, winter daphne, is always found on lists of plants that provide winter interest. Winter daphne is a dense, mounded shrub that gets about 4 feet high and wide in most landscapes. Winter daphne blooms from February to March with clusters of light pink flowers that have a lemon scent. It is common knowledge that daphne is temperamental in the garden. I have read several sources that discuss overnight death of otherwise healthy plants. References stress finding a good site, planting properly, and leaving it there. Transplanting is a sure way to kill winter daphne. They prefer moist, well-drained soil with a pH of 6 to 7 in a site with light shade. Make sure to prepare a wide planting hole, do not plant too deep, and mulch well to hold moisture but keep mulch away from the plant's stems. Even if you don't have success the first time, winter daphne is worth several tries.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Landscape - Plants with Interesting Winter Features V

The following is a continuation of the series on plants with interesting winter features. This post features Helleborus species.

Helleborus species

Helleborus is one of those great old fashion perennials that have been in gardens for years. Every Winter gardeners experience the impressive display Helleborus put on. There are many forms of Hellebore, most gardeners are familiar with the colored hybrid selections mainly from H. orientalis parentage. Helleborus niger types are the first to bloom, this is the classic 'Christmas Rose' starting in December and peaking in January. The other forms, nigercors, and ericsmithii types usually start in February and Bloom through March. Check nurseries now for flowering plants.

Helleborus species and hybrids. Photos from Wikimedia Commons.

Information reprinted from "The Perennial Blogger"

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Landscape - Plants with Interesting Winter Features IV

The following is a continuation of the series on plants with winter interest for use in the landscape.

Northern Bayberry, Myrica pennsylvania
Bayberry is found growing naturally close to the ocean, and thus is highly salt tolerant. It thrives in poor, sterile, sandy soils, but is extremely adaptable to a variety of soil types. The plant is deciduous to semi-evergreen, so it may hold its leathery leaves through winter in some parts of the state. Clusters of gray-blue berries are borne in great quantities along the stems of the female plants. These berries are used in making bayberry candles.

Northern bayberry, photo by Richard Webb, Self-employed horticulturalist,

Amur chokecherry, Prunus maackii
The cinnamon red to yellow brown color of the bark is a very attractive addition to the dull colors of winter.

Amur chokecherry, photo by The Dow Gardens Archive, Dow Gardens,

Witch Hazel, Hamamelis vernalis
A lovely yellow flowered multi-stemmed shrub that starts to flower before Christmas and often lasts until March with a strong fragrance.

Vernal Witchhazel, photo by The Dow Gardens Archive, Dow Gardens,

Corkscrew willow, Salix matsudana
Bent and twisted branches make for an unusual look in the cold winter months.

Large Corkscrew willow tree, note the twisted branches

Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides
This is a larger, deciduous evergreen with an appealing textured bark that seems to peel like a cedar.

Dawn Redwood, Photo by Richard Carter, Valdosta State University,

Friday, January 16, 2009

Greenhouse and Landscape - Consider Bromeliads for Small Volume Containers

I heard a good talk on containers yesterday. There are many combinations that can be used to make dramatic impacts with containers. However, one limitation often is the rooting volume of the container. You may want to consider bromeliads in this case. The following is more information.

Few families in the plant kingdom surpass bromeliads with their wide variation in size, shape, and foliage color. Many bromeliads adapt to summer growing conditions and can be used in container plantings.

Bromeliads are in the pineapple family (Bromeliaceae), a family native to the American Tropics. Two widely known members of this family are pineapple (Ananas comosus) and Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides).

The majority of bromeliads are epiphytes. In their native habitats, they attach by special root structures to trunks and branches of trees and derive their moisture and nutrients from the air and rain. Some are called saxicolous because they attach themselves to rocks, while the rest are terrestrial and grow in the ground as most plants do. Within the same genus there are sometimes tree-dwelling, ground-dwelling, and rock-dwelling species. In fact, epiphytic and terrestrial bromeliads can often thrive equally well if forced to switch places and life styles. It is this ability, in particular, that allows many epiphytic species of bromeliads to be grown in pots like most other plants. Because their roots are only for support, larger bromeliads can be grown in smaller volume containers successfully compared to other plants that derive their nutrients from the potting media.

Plants in the family Bromeliaceae vary widely in shape, size and color. Even species of a single genus often differ drastically in appearance. Most bromeliads cultivated for interior use, however, are alike: without stems and with a central flower spike and strap-shaped, leathery, arching leaves arranged in a rosette.

Most species are grown primarily for their colorful foliage and exotic shapes. Variations in foliage are as wide as those in flowering, and leaves may be green, gray, maroon, spotted or striped. Leaves range from grass-like and less than 2 inches long in some tillandsias, to broad and several feet long in billbergias. The upper leaves of many species change color when plants are about to flower. The gray-green, grass-like foliage of Tillandsia ionantha turns pink, and deep purple-blue flowers arise among the pink leaves. Some species of Neoregelia have red tips on the apex of their leaves that resemble fingernails, and are often called "painted fingernail." Inflorescences (the flowering parts of a plant) may arise from the "cup" or be borne within the "cup." The "cup" or the "vase" is a water holding tank or reservoir formed in the center of many bromeliads by a rosette of overlapping leaves. Flowers are often small but colorful; however, the showy portion of the inflorescence is frequently made up of brilliantly colored bracts borne below each flower. Bracts may be separated, large and leaf-like or overlapping, forming dense spikes. Usually, the bright bracts remain on the inflorescence while fruit matures. The combination of highly colored bracts and often contrasting colored fruit, which remains on the plant for several months, adds to the aesthetic value of bromeliads.

Vriesea imperialis, a good large bromeliad for containers. Photo by Forest & Kim Starr (USGS)

Information largely taken from "Bromeliads" by Robert J. Black and Bijan Dehgan, University of Florida, Cooperative Extension.

Landscape - Some Pruning Basics

Pruning season runs from late winter to late spring depending on the plant. The following are some pruning basics to consider.
  • There are 3 basic reasons to prune: to maintain plants in healthy condition, to rejuvenate certain plants, and to improve flowering and fruiting on certain plants.
  • For maintenance pruning the goals are to remove any damaged or diseased wood, eliminate crossing branches, eliminate suckers and excess upright growth, and limb up to remove low lying branches that risk damage from landscape activities (only limb up if necessary).
  • Make clean pruning cuts with minimal damage or tearing. Reduce the amount of damage done during pruning. Prune at branch collars in larger branches and not flush. For branches less than 1/2 inch diameter cut flush.
  • Use sharp high quality bypass type hand pruners or a good pruning saw. Loppers should not be used for larger branches. Sharpen pruners often.
  • Prune spring flowering trees and shrubs right after flowering in the spring (May-June). Prune summer and fall flowering plants in the dormant season (February-March).
  • Many prolific shrubs can be rejuvenated by cutting down to the ground with a chain saw. Partial renovations can be done on less vigorous shrubs where you take out 3-5 of the oldest stems to the base each year. On some shrubs, where you need to lower the height, you will remove about 1/3 of the plant.

Gordon Johnson, Extension Horticulture Agent, UD, Kent County.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Landscape - Using Natural Patterns in Landscape Design

I sat in an interesting talk yesterday on using natural patterns to create landscape designs. The following are some of the patterns that were discussed.
  • Scattered patterns - in scattered patterns there will be random clumps with space between
  • Serpentine - this is a snake like pattern
  • Mosaic - this is a pattern that is developed by patching smaller units into an overall larger pattern
  • Naturalistic drift - This is a larger planting of one species that is linear or curvilinear in nature against a background of a different species.
  • Dendritic - this is a branching pattern similar to a tree
  • Network - in a network pattern, multiple lines intersect each other in the pattern
  • Spiral - a coiling shape
  • Radial - a pattern where everything radiates from a center outward

I will give examples of these in pictures in future posts.

Gordon Johnson, Extension Horticulture Agent, UD, Kent County.

Business - Contingency Plans for Horticultural Businesses I - Customer Contingency Planning

With the bad economy, all horticultural businesses should develop contingency plans for their business. The following is the first post in a series on the subject. It is on customer contingency planning.
  • Identify who are your most profitable customers
  • Identify who are the most loyal.
  • Identify who must you keep long-term at all costs.
  • Find out how the downturn is affecting each of your customers
  • Find out how can you get closer to your key customers
  • Find out which customers have pressures of their own that will force them to ask you to cut prices, reduce purchases, or limit services. Have a plan for how should you respond. You may have to consider extending credit, putting them on an agreed-upon payment plant, renegotiating contracts, or reducing services temporarily until the economy picks up.

Information from Ed Hess, Professor of Business Administration, Darden School of Business, University of Virginia.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Business - Customer Service

In a down economy it is even more important for horticultural businesses to play close attention to customer service. The following is an article on the subject from Penn State University.

Customer Service Defined

While customer service has no single widely used definition, customer service is often viewed in three principal ways.

1) Customer service as an activity.

This level treats customer service as a particular task that a firm must accomplish to satisfy the customer's needs. Order processing, billing and invoicing, product returns, and claims handling are all typical examples of this level of customer service. Customer service departments, which basically handle customer problems and complaints, also represent this level of customer service.

2) Customer service as performance measures.

This level emphasizes customer service in terms of specific performance measures, such as the percentage of orders delivered on time and complete and the number of orders processed within acceptable time limits. Although this level enhances the first one, a firm might want to look beyond the performance measures themselves to ensure that its service efforts achieve actual customer satisfaction.

3) Customer service as a philosophy.

This level elevates customer service to a firm-wide commitment to providing customer satisfaction through superior customer service. Rather than narrowly viewing customer service as an activity or as a set of performance measures, this interpretation involves a dedication to customer service that pervades the entire firm and all of its activities. The least important level of involvement for most companies would be viewing customer service simply as an activity. From this perspective, customer service activities in logistics are at the transaction level. For example, accepting product returns from customers in a retail store adds no value to product: it is merely a transaction to appease the customers. With the possible exception of making it extremely convenient for customers to return products, this level of customer service typically offers limited opportunities to add value for the customers. The focus upon performance measures for customer service is very important because it provides a method of evaluating how well the logistics system is functioning. Over time, such measures provide benchmarks to gauge improvement, which is especially important when a firm is trying to implement a continuous improvement program. But this level of involvement is not sufficient in the marketplace. The final level, customer service as a philosophy, broadens the role of customer service in the firm. However, this still may not be sufficient unless the value-added dimension is included as the goal of our customer service philosophy. Customer service can be a process for providing competitive advantage and adding benefits to the supply chain in order to maximize the total value to the ultimate customer.

Reprinted from "Customer Service Defined" by John Berry, Agricultural Marketing Educator, Penn State Cooperative Extension - Lehigh County, in the January edition of the Vegetable and Small Fruit Gazette.

Business - Five Essential Steps for Marketing Your Business

All green industry businesses should place more emphasis on marketing during a down economy. The following some information on marketing essentials from Penn State University.

Five Essential Steps For Marketing Your Business

"I know this business inside out," Laura told me the week she started her new business. "I just don't have the foggiest idea of how to market it!" It's a problem that many business managers face. If you don't know how to get the word out - how to market your product or service - it can be a struggle to get the customers needed to grow a business. Here are five considerations some believe support great marketing.

1) What is your market?

Decide who your main customers are or will be. As a group, how old are they? Where do they live? How much money do they make? What kinds of jobs do they have and what are their interests? The better you can sketch a detailed profile of the kinds of people, who will be your main customers, the better you'll fare in the next four steps.

2) What kinds of media do your main customers use?

Each type of media has its own target audience. Each radio station, newspaper, magazine, or TV program tries to interest a specific segment of the population. The trick is to match your main customers with the kinds of media they use. Effective media can be anything that conveys your message. Media choices range from million dollar commercials in the Super Bowl to a few free pens with your name on them. From a simple flyer posted at a local store to good signs on the side of your vehicles.

3) Limit the media you use to what you can afford to use consistently. The key to effective marketing is consistency. You have to hit the audience with your message again, and again, and again. Marketers use the Rule of Seven. Prospects must see or hear your message seven times before they consider buying.

4) Sell the main benefit of your product or service. Make your marketing client centered. How does your product or service improve your customer's life? Talk to your customer from their own perspective. Does your product or service save them time? Make them happier? Make their properties more attractive?

5) And finally, don't miss out on FREE publicity.
Radio, TV, newspapers, newsletters, and magazines regularly lookout for good stories. Is there something about you or your business that would interest other people? Is there something about your business that is newsworthy? Maybe you have useful information to share with others. Last, but certainly not least, remember to promote your business on-line. The internet is open to everyone. It's the only "big" media that allows the small business person to get their message out at very low cost.

These are the five essential steps to effective marketing. Keep them in mind as you decide how to spend your marketing budget. These steps represent the most significant reasons why some marketing efforts fails while others bring in loads of sales.

Reprinted with modifications from "Five Essential Steps For Marketing Your Business" in the January, 2009 edition of the Vegetable and Small Fruit Gazetter, by John Berry, Agricultural Marketing Educator, Penn State Cooperative Extension - Lehigh County

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ed Kee Nominated as DE Secretary of Agriculture

Governor elect Markell announced on Friday that he will nominate Ed Kee as Delaware Secretary of Agriculture. This is a good nomination and the following are reasons why I think Green Industry in Delaware will benefit greatly from this selection.
  • Administrations benefit from selecting "the best and the brightest" for cabinet posts. Ed certainly fits this description.
  • Ed has a genuine and deep love of horticulture.
  • Ed also as a very good understanding of the business side of horticulture and how important it is to keep the green industry viable from a business perspective. He is a supporter of horticultural industries in Delaware and in his previous role as UD Extension Vegetable Specialist, did much to help that industry. He will be a great supporter and promoter of the Delaware green industry.
  • As a keen student of history, Ed has an great appreciation of where horticulture in Delaware has come from and the potentials for horticultural businesses in Delaware, now and in the future.
  • Over the years, Ed has encouraged young people to take up careers in horticulture. I am sure he will continue to do so even more vigorously in the future as Secretary. Ed feels that the future of DE horticulture is built upon educating and supporting young people that will be going into horticultural occupations.
  • Although Ed has not been involved in the ornamental side of horticulture he has always shown a great curiosity the green industry. This curiosity will serve the Delaware green industry well as he will make great efforts to understand it better. It also will lead to a search for positive roles that the DDA can play in supporting the DE green industry. He will work well with our Nursery and Landscape Association and other green industry groups.
  • Another positive trait that will serve Ed well is the ability to see the bigger picture and not be drawn into unproductive directions or decisions.
  • Ed loves education and research and will help to prioritize those areas as a backbone of efforts to keep Delaware's green industry profitable and competitive.
  • And finally, on a lighter side, Ed looks very good in a suit.

Gordon Johnson, Extension Agriculture Agent, UD, Kent County

Friday, January 9, 2009

Safety - Back Injury Seminar

The Delaware-Maryland Agrability project has an annual health emphasis and this year we are focusing on back injuries. Back injuries are acknowledged as the nation’s number one workplace safety problem. This is a common problem in the green industry and you and your employees may want to attend.

The Delaware-Maryland Agrability Project Presents:
Back Safety Seminar

Date: February 11, 2008
Time: 8 AM to 12 PM
Location: Delaware State Fire School, 1461 Chestnut Grove Rd, Dover, DE 19904
Lunch: FREE! LUNCH PROVIDED By: Nationwide Insurance
Registration: You must register to attend! Call the Delaware Farm Bureau at 302-697-3183

How much money will it cost your business if YOU break down?!

Learn techniques how to protect yourself from back injuries on the job:
• Lifting techniques and injury prevention
• Understanding your back and body
• Treatment and Management of Back injuries
• Ask the experts questions on Back issues

Monday, January 5, 2009

Landscape - Plants with Interesting Winter Features III

This is the third in a series on plants with interesing winter features in the landscape.

In winter, grasses provide interest, with persistent seed heads, and by providing motion in an otherwise still landscape. Beyond the aesthetic value to the landscape, grasses serve a more vital purpose; primarily, they serve as habitat for many songbirds, game birds, butterfly larvae, and mammals.

The following are native warm-season grasses with good winter interest.

• Switchgrass. (Panicum virgatum). Clump-forming. Full sun. Height 3-5’. Medium-dry soil. Cultivars: ‘Shenandoah’, red switchgrass. Flowers red-pink in June, turns beige in winter. Persistent seed heads. Provides food and/or shelter for pheasants, quail, turkeys, doves, songbirds, and rabbits. ‘Cloud Nine’, ‘Heavy Metal’, and ‘Prairie Sky’ are all blue switchgrasses.

• Big bluestem. (Andropogon gerardii). Clump-forming. Full-sun or partial shade. Height 5-7’. Prefers moist soil but is adaptable. Provides shelter for nesting birds and insects, and food for songbirds and deer. Summer color: blue-green. Purple-shaded flowers resembling a turkey-foot appear July-October. Fall and winter color: orange to copper red. Cultivar: ‘Bison’ is adapted for northern climates. Best use: prairie gardens or wildflower meadows; as a backdrop for native plantings; or erosion control. Note: this is a rhizomatous grass that can become weedy if not controlled. It is also deep-rooting.

• Little bluestem. (Schizachyrium scoparium). Clump-forming. Full sun. Height 2-4’. Medium to dry soil. Provides food for songbirds and some game birds, and shelter for small mammals and ground birds. Summer color: blue tinge. Purple-bronze flowers in August. Fall color: foliage turns bronze-orange. Winter: persistent silver-white seed heads.

• Indiangrass. (Sorghastrum nutans). Clump-forming. Full sun. Height 4-6’. Moist to dry soils. Provides food for deer. Flowers copper-red in August. Fall: foliage turns orange to golden-brown. Winter: persistent plume-like seed heads.

Bushy Bluestem, Another native grass with winter interest. Photo by Richard Old,

Information reprinted in part from "Native Grasses provide fall interest, winter color, and wildlife food and shelter" by Karen Layton, Penn State Master Gardener

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Landscape - Plants with Interesting Winter Features II

This is a continuation of the series on plants with interesting winter features.

Some shrubs have attractive twigs for winter interest. The shrubby dogwoods (Cornus alba and C. sericea) have either red or yellow twigs. Japanese Kerria is a great shade plant with green twigs. Other shrubs offer textural interest like the corky wings on some winged euonymus.

Another plant characteristic that can offer winter interest is fruit. Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) is a shrub with brilliant red fruits that persist on the plant all winter. Other shrubs that have colorful fruit include holly (red, black or white), jetbead (black) and bayberry (grayish-white).

Trees with colorful persistent fruit include crabapple, Washington hawthorn and Winter King hawthorn. Be sure to choose disease resistant crabapple varieties with persistent fruit. Many improved varieties have fruit that persists through early winter. The fruits on Red Jewel and White Angel crabapples usually persist through the winter.

Some plants bloom during late winter. They include early flowering hardy bulbs like snowdrop (Galanthus) and many varieties of witchhazel (except Hamamelis virginiana that blooms in late fall).

Trees and shrubs with a distinctive form lend winter interest. The plant might have a weeping habit like some crabapple or beech trees. A plant could have twisted stems like contorted filbert (Corylus avellana 'Contorta') or have layered horizontal branches like pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia).

Red Twig Dogwood, Photo by Marcia H.,

Yellow Twig Dogwood. Photo from the article listed below.

Article reprinted in part from "Some Plants Provide Winter Interest" By Steve Mayer, Extension Educator-Horticulture, Purdue Extension-Marion County. Yellow Twig Dogwood photo from the same article

Business - Action Points in a Down Economy: Value and Pricing

In a down economy, horticultural businesses should spend more time looking at the value of their goods or services and pricing policies. The following are some points to consider:
  • Price appropriately. Do not think that lowering your prices will make your business more profitable. Often the opposite occurs as you will require even more customers to bring in the same income. Know your costs and price for the profit margin you need.
  • Test your market. Often raising prices is the key to remaining profitable. You may sell fewer plants or services but you make more from each. Many businesses have found that they are doing better once they have their prices in line with what the market will bear.
  • Do not discount across the board. Offering sales and special incentives are better practices. These have limits and bring in customers. Cutting prices across the board often does not stimulate demand and results in lower overall profits.
  • Examine your value proposition. That is, what are you offering of value to the customer in your product and services. Strive to offer better value by improving quality, improving service, and paying more attention to customers needs. Strive to differentiate your business and its products or services so that it is recognized and preferred by customers.

Information in part from a talk by Dr. Charlie Hall, Texas A&M University.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Landscape - Plants with Interesting Winter Features I

This is the first in a series on plants to use in the landscape with interesting winter features.

As the trees lose their leaves in fall, many landscapes are left looking bare in winter. Using plants with interesting bark adds sculpture, texture and interest to a sparse winter landscape. Bark characteristics range from bright colors to exfoliating texture to even a quilt-like appearance. These interesting bark characteristics are found on both trees and shrubs and can create a dramatic impact in winter as well as adding a subtle accent to the landscape the rest of the year.

Trees with exfoliating or peeling bark include crape myrtle, river birch, papermulberry, shagbark hickory and paperbark maple to name a few. Crape myrtle has both exfoliating bark and bark color, ranging from tan to gray to a cinnamon-colored bark on different species. Pruning crape myrtle into a nice tree-form also adds sculpture to a dormant landscape. Paperbark maple turns a beautiful red-brown color as its bark begins to exfoliate. The paper mulberry has a gray-brown color that peels off like paper while the tree is young. River birch is well-known for its beautiful bark, which can be gray-brown or red. The cultivar "Heritage" has a beautiful cinnamon-colored bark. The tree adds sculpture to the landscape with its beautiful natural growth form.

There also are shrubs that offer exfoliating bark. Winter honeysuckle combines a winter blooming shrub with an attractive exfoliating bark. Sweet mockorange has an attractive orange- to reddish-brown exfoliating bark that enhances any landscape. Oakleaf hydrangea has both exfoliating bark and dried blooms. Fuzzy deutzia also provides a nice accent to a winter landscape. Other trees with interesting bark include the American beech, sycamore, cucumber magnolia, Yoshino cherry and the Chinese elm. The American beech has a beautiful white-gray bark, smooth in texture and a beautiful natural form. The sycamore has white bark on the upper portions of the tree and gray-brown to reddish exfoliating bark near the base. Cucumber magnolia displays an attractive gray bark that becomes ridged as it matures. It adds nice form and subtle color to any landscape. The bark of the Chinese elm is gray with mottled tan to orange blotches. The use of plants with interesting bark and form adds character to an otherwise dull landscape in winter. The proper choice of plants can offer an exciting landscape year-round.

Magnolia acuminata (cucumber-tree) - bark, copyright 2006 Steven J. Baskauf

Reprinted from "Winter Accents the Bare Features of Plants" by Shane Harris, Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension.

Business - Action Points in a Down Economy: Stimulate Demand

In a down economy, horticultural businesses must spend more effort in stimulating demand for products and services. The following are some points to consider on this topic.
  • Focus on your marketing efforts and increase marketing expenditures. To get consumers to buy plants or use your landscape or lawn care services, it is critical to spend more on reaching your customers.
  • Cull out those customers that are not profitable. The bottom 10 % of your customers usually do not produce much returns. Examples would be those customers only seeking discount or bargain prices, smaller properties that cost more to provide services to than you get in return, customers that do not pay on time, or customers that require excessive attention that is not balanced by sales.
  • Focus on the top 10% of your customers. These customers are the ones that make your business profitable. Increase service to them, pay more attention to their needs, and contact them on a regular basis.
  • Look at what competitors are going out of business and aim to attract their best customers.
  • Analyze your products or services and eliminate those that are not profitable or that have low profit margins. For example, if a certain plant category does not make you money, stop growing it, increase your price to make it profitable, or reduce it to the minimum necessary to compliment other offerings.

Information in part from a talk by Dr. Charlie Hall, Texas A&M University.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Landscape - Assessing Deciduous Trees for Potential Limb Failure

Limb failure in trees is a common problem during the winter with snow and ice loads and heavy winds. The following is some information on assessing deciduous trees for potential limb failure.
  • Limb or branch failure is the most common form of failure for deciduous trees.
  • Begin the inspection with the attachment of the primary limbs with the stem. Codominant stems are a very common structural defect. This occurs when the stem divides into two equal diameter upright limbs. These limbs do not have a strong attachment and usually develop long lines of included bark. Strong winds will often separate these weakly attached limbs.
  • Limbs or branches with narrow branch angles behave similarly as codominant stems because they have large areas of ingrown bark that weakens the structure. Check for limbs with ingrown bark in narrow branch angles. These are the most likely to fail.
  • Topping and lion-tailing also reduce the structural integrity of the canopy. Topping occurs when limbs or branches are headed back. The pruning wound generally creates long decay columns as well as producing a proliferation of weakly attached watersprouts.
  • Lion-tailing occurs when long limbs are stripped of their interior branches. The loss of these leaves and supporting branches decreases the flow of food transported to the limb which can result in less taper, thus less structural support.
  • Assess limbs and branches for damaged or diseased areas. This includes decayed areas, cankered sections, borer damaged branches, bark cracking, and physical damage to branches.

Information taken in part from "Hazardous Trees: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You!" by John Ball, Ph.D., South Dakota State University, Brookings, South Dakota

Business - Action Points in a Down Economy: Controlling Costs

It is always necessary to track costs in any business but is even more critical during tough economic times. The following are some cost control considerations for horticultural businesses.
  • Know your costs. Your business profits depend on having good information on the costs of doing business. Know what it costs to produce a nursery or greenhouse plant; know what it costs to provide a landscape or lawn care service. Costs involve both variable inputs and overhead. Make sure that both are accurately accounted for.
  • Once you know your costs, try to lower your break-even cost, that cost at which you pay for all your variable and overhead expenses. Reduce waste, reduce overhead, make only absolutely necessary expenditures, manage with less labor, etc. Be careful though - do not sacrifice quality or service with your cost cutting measures.
  • Lock in energy prices at lower rates. If you can buy fuel and store it, now it the time to do it. If you can lock in some low prices with your energy supplier (they do the storage) do that now.
  • If you ship products, look at long-term distribution options to reduce freight charges. If you receive products, look at the lowest cost freight options.
  • Greenhouses, nurseries, and garden centers should consider buying in pre-finished materials now and "turn the margin". Many plants are in oversupply currently and can be bought for a low price. It is therefore often cheaper to buy in finished material rather than producing your own.
  • Apply other cost cutting measures that are practical. Avoid unnecessary inventory, use labor more efficiently, look for the best prices on inputs, take advantage of low interest rates, etc.
  • One area you should not reduce expenditures on is marketing. Marketing is even more important in a down economy.

Information taken from a presentation by Dr. Charlie Hall, Texas A&M University.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Business - Action Points in a Down Economy: Conserve Your Cash

Cash is king in a down economy. Horticultural businesses should do everything they can to conserve cash. Cash on hand is critical for borrowing, to pay for operating expenses, and as an insurance against further declines in business. The following are some cash conservation strategies:
  • Delay non-strategic investments, that is only those investments that are essential to your business plan should go forward. However, this does not mean you should miss out on opportunities to make your business grow. For example, if a competitor is going out of business, you should consider if it is in your best interest to buy their business.
  • Refinance what you can. Interest rates will not be this low in the future. Take the opportunity to reduce loan payments at a more favorable interest rate.
  • Take full advantage of credit terms. If it is net 60 days from your supplier, pay on day 57, not day 15.
  • Sell unused assets if possible. That spare piece of equipment can bring in needed cash to operate.
  • Apply for credit long before you need it. Get your line of credit established and use it to your advantage rather than spending your reserve cash. Remember that interest rates are very low now.
  • Reduce estimated tax payments. If you feel your profits will be down, don't send the government as much money in estimated taxes.
  • Review all overhead expenditures and reduce where possible. For example, see if you can reduce insurance premiums.

Information from a talk by Dr. Charlie Hall from Texas A&M University.