Ever rising costs and seemingly ever decreasing margins are combining to create a business battlefield. Quality, added value and creating the perfect impulse purchase could be key in the smooth running of many nurseries up and down the country this year. Minimising waste and plant losses will definitely play an important role, and reducing labour inputs could also be crucial.
Nutrition is particularly important in producing healthy ornamental plants at the right time and to the right stage. So too is disease control. Last year, Everris brought the two elements together in PlantTrust - a product that feeds, protects, reduces wastage and gives a saving on labour.
Phytophthora root rot (Phytophthora cinnamonmi) can be a profit robber. It is estimated that, on average, nurseries lose up to 10 per cent of susceptible plants to the disease. That can mean a loss of between £80 and £200 worth of plants grown per cubic metre of growing media.
Many plants are susceptible to Phytophthora. There is no cure for it and even when preventive measures are employed - such as fastidious crop-monitoring, using generous pot spacing and well-drained and open compost - Phytophthora still has a habit of creeping in.
Everris's new solution is seen as a cost-effective preventive approach to the disease, providing improved and easier protection while feeding the plants and saving labour.
Winner of the Horticulture Week Best New Product Award at the Four Oaks Trade Show last September, PlantTrust harnesses Controlled Release Control (CRC) technology that heralds a new way of thinking about plant nutrition and disease control.
Based on the principles of controlled-release fertiliser technology, PlantTrust releases starter nutrients while protecting against Phytophthora. It is all down to an advanced coating system - a decade in development and backed by more than 100 scientific field trials.
The coating has been designed for plant-protection products and it provides gradual, steady and complete diffusion of the active ingredient, fosethyl aluminium, into the substrate. But that is not the end of the story. The fosethyl aluminium is applied onto NPK (11-6-8+ trace elements) granules. With its clever coating system, each PlantTrust granule controls the release of both fungicide and fertiliser to give the plant what it needs - feeding the crop for two-to-three months and providing five months of protection against Phytophthora cinnamonmi.
Safe to handle
Easy to use and time-efficient, PlantTrust granules are simply mixed into the growing media. Being coated and protected, the active ingredient is safe to handle and when used correctly avoids the risk of overdosing. Nutrients are delivered and taken up in optimal amounts and there is no wastage of plant protection product - and no leaching. Everris marketing manager Dave Steward believes it is destined to change standard nursery practice.
"We believe PlantTrust has a great future not only helping nurseries significantly reduce plant losses but also saving valuable labour costs during production and despatch - all helping to improve nursery profits," he says. "With PlantTrust, the plant is protected at all times without any risk of there being a shortage of active ingredient allowing pathogens to attack the plant - a danger inherent in spraying.
"Historically, nurseries have generally relied on labour-intensive spray programmes, which many have failed to complete. Using PlantTrust as part of an Osmocote Exact nutrition programme gives superb growth and protects plants that are susceptible to Phytophthora."
More than 20 UK nurseries took part in full commercial trials last year and were reportedly impressed with the results both in minimising Phytophthora and also improving crop quality through nutrition. One grower planning to continue the use of PlantTrust is Golden Grove Nursery partner Tim Ward. From his Lincolnshire nursery, he specialises in the production of a wide range of dwarf conifers, hedging plants, grafted pines and Picea for supply to garden centres.
"PlantTrust was easy to incorporate at the potting stages," says Ward. "The Phytophthora control was much better than in previous years, with only a small number of plants lost. In addition, growth was significantly fuller and stronger than in previous crops. I will definitely be using PlantTrust in the future for susceptible varieties."
Although only currently registered and available in the UK, Everris plans to register and introduce PlantTrust in other European countries over the next few years. And this is likely to be just the start. We are bound to see similar products come to market in the future.
"This new CRC platform technology has an exciting future - we will be exploring its potential with other active ingredients in the future," Steward confirms.
Different types of coatings come under the microscope at Compo, where the research and development department is studying materials from standard polymers to biodegradable coatings.
Heading up Compo's UK subsidiary, Mike Butler explains: "We are always looking at coatings and seeing how we can make them more environmentally friendly. There is a look, especially in Europe, towards the use of biodegradable coatings because polymer coatings take a reasonable length of time to break down and end up in the pot or the garden soil of the customer who bought the plant. People are looking to give coatings a timeline to get rid of them."
With the recent weather patterns of long dry periods, Omex Horticulture sales manager Richard Cameron has found foliar fertilisers are increasingly used as growers try to do the job more efficiently and cost-effectively.
"Increasingly, the ornamentals market is using fertiliser to accurately help specific crops or specific problems and not just as general feeds," he says. "The use of foliar feeds has come about, allowing the growers to have maximum nutrition applied, therefore less waste."
He also reports a marked increase in the use of phosphate/phosphite foliar feeds such as Greencross and Zero N Phosphite as growers seek economical and easy ways to help with more intense rooting and plant health.
Enhancing root growth
Also new from Omex, Foliar Supreme has entered the ornamentals market from the food sector. The product comprises phosphorus, potassium and micronised elemental sulphur and it is used to enhance root growth to promote yield and quality.
"The use of elemental sulphur, which is good for plant health, has been shown to increase general plant growth and the general well-being of crops, helping plants through periods of stress caused, for example, by drought, water-logging or root damage," says Cameron.
These products, along with Kelpak Bio 18/20, are compatible with Omex and many others that are commonly used, which Cameron says can reduce spraying time for growers.
A new fertigation feed specifically formulated for primulas and pansies, Solufeed's Primula & Pansy Special, can be used on many other items of bedding where bright flowers and green leaves are beneficial at the point of sale.
"When bedding plants are for sale in the garden centre, they need to be attractive with nice colourful flowers. But the leaves also need to be bright green," says Solufeed European marketing and business development manager Bob Greensmith. "Primula & Pansy Special is formulated to give bright flowers and it also has a chelated form of iron to prevent leaf chlorosis (yellowing) due to iron deficiency."
As well as balanced NPK and DTPA chelated iron, Primula & Pansy Special also contains EDTA chelated trace elements to ensure efficient nutrition with no deficiencies. Available in a rapid solubility formulation, the product has a blue dye to identify the mixed solution.
Omex stimulants and foliar feeds
Based on its Bio suspension technology, Omex Horticulture has introduced Bio 18 (18-18-18+3Fe+1.67MgO) and Bio 20 (20-20-20) stimulants and foliar feeds based on an organic bio-stimulant package derived from seaweed.
"Ecklonia maxima (kelp seaweed) is high in auxins that produce a mass of lateral roots, allowing plants to not only take up water and feed more efficiently but also help with cytokinin production, leading to stronger, sturdier top growth," says sales manager Richard Cameron.
"This is especially important in drought conditions. It is useful either on its own or formulated with NPK and also available in more concentrated forms of seaweed in the Bio 18/20 products that can be used at very low rates and result in less packaging and greater cost efficiency."
Silicon wetters, such as Omex's SW7, help the dissemination of chemicals and bio-pesticides on plants, keep spraying costs down and enhance nutrient uptake. According to Cameron, such products work effectively at breaking surface tension and spreading the chemicals and foliar feeds they carry around the leaves translaminally, leading to better uptake.