Nursery Market Report: May 1999, Plant Care And Selection

Departments - Nursery Stock

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November 23, 1999

In all my years of green industry experience, the areas needing the most attention in the relationship between landscape installers and their nursery suppliers relates to plant knowledge and care of plants during the installation process.

Kimberly Nurseries has had as much experience in this form of interaction as anyone, from both sides of the issue. This nursery is a 93-year-old firm heavily involved in retail green and hard good sales, wholesale supplies to landscapers and landscape installation. We have seen and experienced many facets of the landscape installation/supplier relationship.

PLANT IQ. First of all, a good, well-rounded and open-minded knowledge of plants is essential. This plant knowledge is not merely the responsibility of the supplier or nursery; the installer should have a good working knowledge of the plant material most functional for the climate, as well as specific planting site issues and requirements.

There is a much wider plant variety selection to choose from these days. Even in a more severe climate zone such as ours (zone 4), we offer customers as wide an array of plant material choices as possible.

There are many ways for nursery stock suppliers and contractors to broaden their plant knowledge basis. Community colleges and universities are offering more and more horticultural-related classes as electives or even for college credits. Many of these are offered as night classes or can be taken during the off-season. There are plenty of good plant books available, many having quality color pictures as well. Good CD-ROM packages for your computer are available, many as part of an overall landscape design program.

Many areas of the country are now offering certification programs to recognize and promote those individuals and their companies who have achieved such certification status. The overall benefit that knowledge and achievement can have on our industry is profound.

The importance of plant knowledge in the proper placement on the job site cannot be stressed enough.Travelingl around our market and observing landscape projects, the ones that are planned out by knowledgeable people simply stand out from the rest. Not coincidentally, they also seem to be more sustainable and successful years later and are generally better maintained.

IN TRANSIT. The second area of improvement surrounds the care that perishable plant material receives in transit to and on the job site.

Some contractors ignore the proper transportation to get material to the job site safely. Enclosed vans offer protection from windburn and other elements that plants in open trucks are exposed to going down the road. If such vehicles are not available, perhaps the nursery or supplier can deliver the plant material in one of their enclosed units, or one can be rented. The expenditure can be justified in having healthier plants arrive on the job site, where they are going to need all the extra energy they can muster in order to survive in their new environment.

Plants also must be monitored while at the job site. Plants have been observed sitting out in the hot sun on asphalt parking lots all day or for several days with little or no attention until they are planted. Water, either a lack of, or even too much over time, is the cause of most landscape plant mortality. This must be the case, if proper plant varieties for the area have been selected.

Usually, landscape sites consist of very dry soil, which will actually draw moisture like a wick out of the moist soil with a freshly installed landscape plant. The sooner the entire root zone of that newly planted plant can be saturated, the better the chance at successful establishment.

Many people will only water the newly planted plant again when they see the surface soil dry again. They must consider how much water the soil profile will need in order to get available water completely through the root zone of that new plant. Likewise, after installation, proper water management is essential to ensure that too much water is not causing adverse effects to establishing plants. This is especially the case if an automatic irrigation system has been installed as part of the project.

Details as to future water management must be addressed prior to the contractor’s departure from the completed job site. A responsible landscape firm should leave the owner simple, easy-to-follow care instructions, both verbally and in writing, as to the care of the different elements of their new landscape. Contractors should also make themselves available for follow up visits at regular intervals until the project owner is comfortable in the care of their new purchase. This should be the case no matter what the size of the project is.

THE HARD WAY. It bears mentioning that various hard good items are becoming more and more prevalent in the landscape. Various water features, statuary, brick pavers and retaining wall products are becoming larger parts of our inventory. A good working knowledge of these products and their availability is also essential.

Contractors need to work with suppliers and nurseries willing to help fill their needs. Suppliers with a good variety of products and knowledge of them are invaluable.

Nurseries and contractors can both learn and better understand the supply/demand process by visiting the major sources of supply. Outside of the busiest spring season, we visit all of our major suppliers, who update us on new products and help us understand their production, inventory and shipping processes. That input is invaluable.

It is important to note that the bottom line of all this is to better serve our customers. Now, more than ever, potential customers have so many choices as to where and how to spend their money. The more streamlined we can keep this entire process – from grower, to supplier, to installer, to customer – the better overall experience we can provide our clients.

The author is president of Kimberly Nurseries, Twin Falls, Idaho.

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