The catered lunch at the Plant Materials Conference, even though drinks and snacks were available throughout the morning, was great. The Green Industry attendees were treated to Mexico Joe’s buffet of cooked peppers and onions, beans, meats, cheese and whatever wrapped inside flour tortillas. We struggled to resist lapsing into naps during the post-lunch presentation. The group should have done laps around the parking lots before the talk.

The catered lunch at the Plant Materials Conference, even though drinks and snacks were available throughout the morning, was great. The Green Industry attendees were treated to Mexico Joe’s buffet of cooked peppers and onions, beans, meats, cheese and whatever wrapped inside flour tortillas. We struggled to resist lapsing into naps during the post-lunch presentation. The group should have done laps around the parking lots before the talk.

The lights went down and it fell on the shoulders of Ben Miller, President of Stutzman’s Greenhouse, Inc. to keep us alert with ‘Changes to Survive in Today’s Garden Center Industry.’ For those of us not directly in the Industry, Stutzman’s talk was an eye-opener about larger scale nursery operations.

The Enid Garden House and Nursery, Inc. of Eloise Smith mentioned in last week’s “Go Green Part 1” was a small size family greenhouse nursery. Stutzman’s Greenhouse, Inc. is what I’d call medium sized. In the 1950’s, the Stutzman cousins did truck gardening and sold plants and tomato starts along the roadside. There were few bedding plant options for the retail operation. Ben Stutzman and his wife, dairy farmers, bought his cousin’s business in 1985. They learned a few lessons: Be adaptable to markets/businesses and grow something unique for which your nursery becomes known. Eventually the firm expanded to 7 acres greenhouse space, 4 outdoor acres and 11 seasonal garden centers across Kansas open from March to October. To get an idea of size, the primary retail location in Pleasantview, KS has a 40,000 ft2 greenhouse, the Gift Gallery and Boutique cover 7,000 ft2 and the Nursery 2,500 ft2. Nearly 16 million plugs are used for bedding plant flats. Potted mums, azaleas, Hibiscus and tropicals are trucked to independent florists.

Stutzman noted the trend in the plant nursery industry was corporate takeover. Smaller growers were being kicked out because the Independents failed to see how seriously customers preferred convenience. Thus, the Stutzman business built strong interactions with garden clubs and shows. They have a designated marketing budget of 65% with 21% radio but 0% newspaper, and sales are 75% wholesale/25% retail. Virtually all production goes through their own retail centers.

Stutzman’s make their own soil mixture of composted pine bark, peat moss, vermiculite and fertilizer. The greenhouses are devoted to 35,000 ft2 of geraniums with 4,000 ft2 in 14” tubs. The source of the geranium callus cuttings come from Guatemala and Costa Rico. Callus cuttings are sections of plant stems treated so one end forms tissue above which roots will grow. The cuttings are placed directly in their special soil and root rapidly. Four hundred flats/hour can be processed. April 16th 2018 was their worst April ever. It was so cold and windy many plants ‘burned’ and perished.

Nearly eight thousand 12-inch ‘Mumbo Mums’ (mum combo: 3 plugs grown together in pot) and ten semi-loads of pumpkins will be in place for the Fall Festival last Saturday in September. Wow. The Stutzman passion is to beautify America one home at a time! They have almost enough plants to do this.

What plants interest you? Thought-provoking ideas were presented by the Director of the Tulsa Botanic Garden, Todd Lasseigne in ‘Gardening Under the Umbrella of Ornamentals.” Ornamentals offer many fringe benefits. Azaleas or yuccas form living collections as seen in diversity trials. Play with texture and form. Todd stated we all know Clematis and mail boxes co-evolved together since dinosaurs! Who can forget the lollipop tree with wood trunk topped by a green ball of foliage. Ornamentals can be novel. Slender sweet gums or Bald Cypresses growing in a row caste an interesting silhouette. How about yellow twigs on Box Elders in winter? Ever try the cold hardy strain of “Swamp Palmetto”?

The pollinator myth! Lasseigne mentioned Butterfly weed may not be the best garden icon for Millennials. The group is easily distracted and discouraged. They need plants they can’t kill, such as the hardy Verbena simplex, a tall native perennial with lavender flowers. Grow the vigorous, heat tolerant, butterfly and hummingbird-loving Porterweed (Stachytarfeta mutabilis). He thinks the nectar rich salmon pink flowers make this the #1 plant for Monarch butterflies.

Okay, ponder this. Some plants not considered native in central Oklahoma are native in countries where our pollinators overwinter. They would recognize them here as well. Want something different? Salvia uliginosa, the bog sage, comes from Argentina. The light blue flowers are butterfly magnets. Or go native and plant Kintzley’s Ghost (Lonicera reticulata), an heirloom honeysuckle that looks like a Silver-Dollar Eucalyptus plant. The round white bracts surround tiny yellow flowers.

Now for the BIG Greenhouse nursery. Ben Selanders, Technical Rep based in Edmond, OK, gave an overview of Aris Horticulture and a different perspective on floriculture. Remember Stutzman’s? They have 35 year-round and 150 seasonal employees. Aris Horticulture employs 650 people. Headquarters are in Barberton, Ohio. The three growing areas are located in Alva, FL, Lancaster, PA and Leamington, Ontario, Canada. Aris has two divisions of plants. Starter plants begin in Green Leaf Division on 7 acres, 2 propagation facilities, and 50 hoop houses all on liners. Liners are young plants that need additional growing time before being sold as starter plants.

Selanders gave this example: 140 varieties of Perennial Dianthus plants in 1,632 trays, each with 288 (1.5 inch) plugs were supplied by 7 breeders at the Lancaster Facility. Cuttings were harvested and propagated within the Elite house and transplanted after virus tests had been done on a quarterly basis. The plants have a 35-week life cycle. Total Dianthus stock is 25,000 ft2 equivalent to 4 million Dianthus plants. That’s a lot of pink.

The Keepsake Division handles the Keepsake Azaleas (over 30 years), Yoder Mums, Tradewinds Hibiscus (18 commercial varieties created during the 37-year breeding program), Hydrangeas, Mandevillas and Asters. Aris Industry is the leader in tropical Hibiscus. Selanders finished with a successful company is not afraid to take risks, data is based on facts, successful growers do the right thing at the right time, recruit and retain talented employees, use empathy and understanding (BE NICE) and know it is never as bad as it seems. Remember the wise old Dutch saying “Soup is rarely eaten at the temperature it is served.”

Last, but not least, was Jason Vogel, Director of the Oklahoma Water Survey. Nursery and Greenhouse runoff contain fertilizers and pesticides. What to do? His program “How to be Good Stewards of Runoff” focused on projects involving bioretention cells and retention ponds (constructed Wetlands) with flood control structures and adaptable plants. Mike Schnelle recommended plants that support symbiotic organisms and provide aesthetic appeal: Rush, Sedge, Cattails, Cannas, Waterlily/Lotus, Horsetail, Iris orchioides, and Pond Cypress. The presentation ended with data from experiments (column versus pot leaching tests and constructed wetlands) using bifenthrin and fipronil. Overall Field Summary showed at least 75% reduction of pollutants by using retention wetlands. The field trials demonstrated a very effective way for nurseries to manage contaminated runoff.

Steve Dobbs, Oklahoma State University Grounds and Landscape Manager, ended the conference with a tour around OSU for people to see the various projects and gardens on campus.

The Green Industry incorporates small family garden nurseries all the way to large industrial sized distribution centers. Ornamentals, tropicals, natives and cultivars all have origins in nurseries, the places where most babies begin their lives.