In our world of plants, one of the most dreaded words is…disease. It can cause thousands of dollars of irreparable damage, loss of income, possible quarantine and loss of reputation. One only needs to go back to the late blight on tomatoes a few years ago that swept the country because of a shipment from one company. Consumers lamented the loss of their beloved vegetable but the company suffered the loss of its reputation, as well.
So we rely on science to help us overcome these problems, and one of the driving forces helping us is Margery Daughtrey of Cornell University. She grew up in the little town of Crozet, Va., nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and famous for its peaches. She comes from a family that gardened, including the usual suspects of vegetables, flowers, trees and shrubs.
“My grandmother made sure I noticed the wonders of lilacs and turnips. My mother taught me about nasturtiums and watercress. My father taught me about apples and sassafras trees. My aunts taught me about sweet peas, azaleas and pussy willows, and my best friend’s mother taught me about mayapples and persimmons,” Daughtrey recalls.
Growing up, she also received inspiration from the Little Golden Books on wildflowers, rocks and minerals, as well as Science in Your Own Back Yard by Elizabeth K. Cooper. She got excited the first time that she got to look at tiny creatures through a microscope. Even as a child she was interested in what made things happen on plants, and when she was 18, her first diagnosis was discovering what caused galls on her aunt’s azaleas. After doing research she found it was a fungus called Exobasidium japonicum and realized that plants could get diseases, too.
When she went off to William and Mary College, she needed an honors project in biology and chose to use the same fungus on her aunt’s azalea. She put the fungus onto azalea cells in tissue culture just to see what would happen. She got high honors for the project. After William and Mary College, she earned her master’s in plant pathology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and, as she says, “I’ve looked through a microscope many an hour since.”
For almost the past 40 years she has studied what can go wrong with our plants and how to prevent it or cure it.
Reading her Curriculum Vitae is daunting, akin to reading War and Peace in another language. She authored The Cornell Guide for the Integrated Management of Greenhouse Crops and Herbaceous Ornamentals, and co-authored Diseases of Annuals and Perennial, A Ball Guide, Identification and Control; Ball Field Guide to Diseases of Greenhouse Ornamentals; Diseases of Herbaceous Perennials; The Compendium of Flowering Potted Plant Diseases; and Herbaceous Perennials: Diseases and Insect Pests. Most, if not all, of these are on bookshelves in greenhouses and nurseries across the country.
“Margery Daughtrey is in a class by herself. She is a superstar in the field of ornamental plant pathology,” says Laurence V. Madden, distinguished professor of plant protection and interim chair department of plant pathology at The Ohio State University. “She knows everything about ornamental diseases and how to control them, and can explain this to the public in a clear and concise manner. Anyone who has read her books or heard her lectures is very fortunate.”
She’s been researching diseases that pose serious threats to the nursery industry, including sudden oak death. But finding a solution will not be easy, since Phytophthora ramorum has a large host range, she says. For the consumer’s popular annual, Impatiens walleriana, which has been hard hit by impatiens downy mildew, she says there are a lot of impatiens species with no or little susceptibility, so there is a large gene pool to look for plants that are resistant to IDM. They have learned that crosses between wallerianaand other species don’t work because the hybrids tend to retain the disease susceptibility of the species. She is currently working on boxwood blight (Calonectria pseudonaviculata), a disease that is threatening one of the industry’s most profitable staples. She is part of a group of scientists who are working together to learn how to manage the disease in nurseries and landscapes, and to evaluate the plants for their level of resistance to the disease.
“Of the many, many plant pathologists who work closely with nurserymen, landscapers, arborists, and greenhouse operators on woody ornamentals and floricultural crops, Margery is just the best. Her understanding of plant diseases and the needs of her clientele are exceptional,” says Gary W. Moorman, professor emeritus of plant pathology at Pennsylvania State University.
Daughtrey has not only witnessed, but been partially responsible for, many changes in the horticulture industry.
“I do think that the horticulture industry has changed a lot since 1978, when I began working for Cornell. It’s a professional and forward-looking industry, which has caused it to change with new technologies, as well as with the new plant fashions — look at the sudden importance of succulents,” she says. “The horticulture industries are still largely relying on chemicals to supplement cultural controls for their integrated pest management programs, but the public doesn’t appreciate how much safer the modern chemicals are compared to some that were (often carelessly) applied in the past. There has been a tremendous growth of helpful biological controls for insect, mite and disease management since I entered the greenhouse and nursery world, and it seems that we are continually moving in that direction. To shift to such controls will require cleaner stock for the industry’s supply of plant material, and a high level of disease and pest resistance in the cultivars.
“Disease-prone crops can’t be grown successfully when they are contaminated with pathogens before they are received by the grower. And even if plants are clean during production, the plants must have built-in disease resistance to perform beautifully for the consumer.”
Even with advances in technology, the industry still faces challenges. With the globalization of the green industry, it is difficult to monitor the disease management practices in a source greenhouse that’s located in another country.
Denise is a professional horticulturist, garden writer and speaker based in Pittsburgh.
Robert E. “Buddy” Lee is the director of plant innovations for Plant Development Services, Inc., but he’s best known as the plant breeder behind the wildly popular Encore Azaleas. He has 30 years of experience in nursery management, breeding, propagation and new plant development, and he travels internationally speaking to horticulture groups.
He’s been collecting plants since the first grade, but he always had a special fascination with one in particular.
“Azaleas just seem to have a magical trait to them, that people were drawn to them when they bloom,” he says.
The tremendous success of his behemoth brand hasn’t given him any illusions about the industry. And he certainly doesn’t take that success for granted.
“People come out of college and tell me they want to do plant breeding,” he says. “I tell them ‘Don’t quit your day job.’ It’s not something that pays off immediately. And it may never pay off.”
Lee believes in the potential of plant breeding, especially with advances in equipment and a market that is more accepting of branded plants than it was when he got started, but notes that prospective breeders may need to take another job to pay the bills. Lee worked night shift at the hospital and ER as a nurse and at his own nursery during the day time.
Many people are passionate about plants, but sustaining that love while still somehow making a decent living can be a difficult proposition.
“When their friends are making three times as much as them but they’re working twice as hard, sometimes the passion fades away,” he says. “If they aren’t passionate about it, or they don’t want to sacrifice, they’ll probably drift away from it anyway, because it’s hard.”
Savannah Springs Nursery, the wholesale production nursery Buddy started in the early 1980s, did well enough. But growers all over were losing money on his favorite crop, the azalea, because production of the shrub was at an all-time high. Azaleas were selling for less than it cost to produce them. Buddy and his wife, Dixie, decided to convert Savannah Springs from a production nursery to a plant breeding nursery.
Buddy continued plant breeding, evaluation and selection work at the renamed Transcend Nursery in Louisiana.
He kept collecting unique and different plant species and cultivars, growing off populations of open and cross-pollinated seedlings and evaluating these seedlings for desirable landscape traits and environmental hardiness. Over the years and through the evaluation of many thousands of seedlings, his work has resulted in 54 plant patents, many foreign plant breeders rights, and numerous U.S. plant trademarks. These new plant introductions include 31 Encore Azaleas as well as cultivars from several other genera that are featured in the Southern Living Plant Collection and the Sunset Western Plant Collection.
Once he was able to focus on his hobby of growing and propagating azalea, his main goal was to create a cultivar that would cut through the overstocked, overproduced basic azalea. At that time, growers and retailers were scaling back on azalea, not adding more to their production plans. Buddy needed something special to set his azalea apart. He envisioned a plant that would bloom in multiple seasons, giving consumers a first act, a second act and even an encore performance.
How Encore happened
The genesis of this project happened in the early 1980s, when Buddy began crossing traditional spring-blooming azaleas with the rare Taiwanese summer-blooming azalea, Rhododendron oldhamii. Buddy had a friend who introduced him to R. oldhamii. That was the genesis of the project that would become Encore Azaleas.
“He had sponsored a plant expedition into Taiwan, and for his money, he got a little cutting,” Buddy says. “He didn’t even like azaleas, but he put it beside his veterinarian shop and it just took off like crazy. As soon as I saw that, I said if I could cross this with the other ones, maybe I could develop a crop with a consistent bloom and know when it would bloom.”
Buddy already had a large supply of azaleas with a tendency to bloom in the fall from his own collection.
“The only problem with the ones that have a tendency to bloom in the fall is they were very unpredictable with when they would bloom,” Buddy says. “Sometimes they would bloom in September, sometimes October, and sometimes they wouldn’t bloom until Thanksgiving, depending on the weather.”
When Buddy got his hands on R. oldhamii, it was easy to jump into the breeding work. It was controlled plant breeding, easy to cross. He was already adept at growing seedlings by trial and error, so the process was smooth. When the seedlings germinated, he potted up a lot of seedlings in 52-tray XL packs.
Some breeders limit the number of hybrids, but Buddy’s method runs counter to that strategy.
“I do overkill on the plants,” he says. “My philosophy was always to pot up as many seedlings of a hybrid as I can.”
Another part of his breeding process is to try to use only a small amount of insecticides and subject the plant to whatever adverse weather conditions that Mother Nature dreams up.
“I’d pot them up, and they’re left to their own devices,” he says. “As time goes on and the environmental factors hit them, and they’re left out in the winter, never covered, you lose a lot of them. The weaker ones are lost to environment or disease.”
Buddy selected from the survivors. Next, he chose the best bloom colors. There were so many oranges, a lot of the more common shades were discarded. From there, the seedlings moved up to 4-inch pots, then to 1-gallon containers. In that first group, Buddy had 11,000 azaleas in 3-gallon containers. Only 12 of that group went forward in the program, and only seven of those plants were eventually named.
An ill-timed freeze can wreak havoc on azalea. The Louisiana heat is legendary, but the state’s climate can also test a plant’s cold resistance. Buddy keeps all new plants he’s testing out in the open, uncovered.
“Even in the South, cold is fairly brutal on an azalea,” he says. “But if I see split bark, those plants fall off the wagon.”
Sometimes a plant has all the attributes that earmark it as a future best-seller, but it falls flat in production. Lee says every breeder has had those plants, the ones that make you ask what might have been.
“I’ve had several plants that would be great, but when mass produced they didn’t do what we wanted them to do,” he says.
But that’s OK. Because if the plant couldn’t handle the rigors of being grown for production en masse, it wouldn’t have been a hit anyway.
“That’s the best test,” he says. “When you see 200 of them in a row, in bloom and growing, that’s really the final test. Because not only do you want a plant that does well for the consumer, but it needs to be a good production plant. If the wholesale growers can’t grow it, or have difficulty growing it – well, they don’t have time to be babying plants.”
Even with more than 30 named azaleas, patented as part of the Encore program, Buddy still believes there is more to do in the field of azalea breeding.
For instance, there are several traits he’s currently trying to bring out in his breeding. He sees a need for azalea that have a tolerance to high alkalinity, heavier soils. Variation in leaf color and unique bloom colors are other key factors that catch his eye.
“I’m looking for double blotches with the blotches all the way in the center, striped, or different patterns in the flower bloom,” he says. “I’m also working on incorporating yellow color into the evergreen azaleas, which don’t really have yellow or blue color, but they have first cousins in the rhododendron world that have that. So there is some interspecific breeding work there.”
Those are traits he’s been trying to make happen for a long time – “pie in the sky” work. Generally, he looks for something out of the ordinary. Oddities that could spring up in all these seedings. Many of these traits from vegetative sports aren’t transmitted in hybridization; they aren’t at the right chromosome level. In those instances, he continues his work on the seedlings that carry those unique traits.
“One plant may have a lot of the traits I want, but it won’t bloom,” he says. “That destroys the whole concept of an azalea if it doesn’t bloom.”
However, these plants do still set a seed capsule. So those non-bloomers can still be useful as what is considered a stepping stone plant.
Last year, Buddy’s Transcend Nursery had 33,000 seedlings. He selects out of 4-inch containers, not gallon pots.
“What I’m looking for is certain traits, traits that are very obvious but there’s a low ratio of seeing ‘em,” he laughs.
After that, all those seedlings will go in for another test, for high alkalinity and salt tolerance.
“It’s an easy way to say I’m going to kill them all,” he jokes.
Buddy is past president of The Azalea Society of America, past president of the Louisiana Nurseryman’s Association Region III, and he is an active member of the International Plant Propagators Society and the Louisiana Nursery and Landscape Association.
In 2000, the Louisiana Nursery and Landscape Association recognized Buddy Lee’s significant contribution to the industry by presenting him with a Professional Achievement Award; and in 2007, the Azalea Society of America awarded him the Society’s Distinguished Service Award. And just this year, he received the prestigious Don Shadow Award of Excellence from the Southern Nursery Association. This award is presented to an individual, corporation or organization that excels in the development, promotion and use of new and improved plants.
Even after all the accolades, he keeps evaluating plants, looking at them from different angles.
“To see all these seedlings bloom, and to see all the variations, to me it’s just awesome,” he says. “When you’ve got thousands of seedlings and you’re slowly walking through and tagging the one you want to pull out… that, to me, is a really good feeling.” NM
Polarization is a common problem for companies trying to make smart and agile strategic decisions. (Hint: That should be all companies.) When people band together with likeminded teammates, it's human nature for them to get more and more entrenched in their mindset. The result is two opposing camps, each seeking a decision that's more extreme than the original ideas of individual team members. This is a predictable outcome of group decision making dynamics. Unfortunately, it can be a highly destructive one.
What often happens in group decision making is that two extreme options rise to the top. The decision is forced into a “yes or no” framework, and alternate options—which many team members might actually prefer—are left off the table. Because neither camp will give an inch, the CEO may have to step in and make the final call.
The end result is a decision not many people really like, a CEO who blames the team for indecisiveness, and behind-the-scenes grumbling that the CEO is playing favorites or behaving like a dictator. In situations like this, no one wins.
Consider this typical example:
Jill, president of a company that had created a new "smart home" thermostat, was at a crossroads. Over the past year, her company had conducted tests, in three geographic markets, of a direct-to-consumer sales approach. The tests showed that given sufficient investment, her company could supplement its current sales to DIY retailers and local heating and air conditioning (HVAC) companies by selling direct to homeowners. Now was the time to expand the program nationally, but the team had reached a stalemate over whether this investment was wise.
Members of the team fell into two camps, each side adamant about its position.
The "go" camp felt that selling direct to consumers was essential in order for the company to reach its growth goals. They asserted that there were vast numbers of homeowners who would purchase and install their own smart thermostats if they understood how easy it could be and were provided with clear instructions.
The "no-go" camp felt that selling direct to consumers would kill the company. It's too risky, they said. If we go direct, DIY retailers and HVAC services companies will drop us as a supplier—they'd rather carry a product that they alone can supply. The "no-go" camp also feared that the company didn't have the skills or deep pockets needed to be successful in the direct-to-consumer business. Companies that are good at direct-to-consumer marketing are experts in search engine marketing and content marketing. They know how to reach the consumers who are in the market for their products. We don't have those skills, and we could spend a fortune trying to build this business and still fail.
Jill's team had been wrestling with this go/no-go decision for over six months, with zero progress. Each camp had dug deep trenches, accumulating more evidence that their point of view was correct. Jill saw risks on both sides, but knew that whatever path forward the company chose, gaining the full commitment of her team—the leaders of sales, marketing, manufacturing, finance, human resources, and legal—was crucial for success.
So, what happens next? Ideally, in a stalemate situation like this, the leader should take six key actions:
Set clear objectives
As a first step to resolving the impasse, Jill got her team together to agree on objectives. After a full afternoon of healthy debate, the team agreed that within two years, it was essential—a "must have"—to achieve 20 percent market share. The "nice to haves" included retaining at least the current level of sales with the DIY retailers and HVAC services companies, and maintaining at least 10 percent net profits.
When people band together with likeminded teammates, it's human nature for them to get more and more entrenched in their mindset.
Develop several alternatives
A week later, Jill's group gathered again to discuss alternative approaches to meeting their agreed-upon objectives. Members of both camps were surprised at the breadth of options the team identified. Over the past several months, each side had become so entrenched in its own point of view, they had not realized how much middle ground existed. After several hours of brainstorming and heated discussion, the group had developed four distinct alternatives for how to proceed, which varied in terms of the partners they would enlist, the way they would engage the HVAC services companies, and how the company would manage logistics to supply each local market.
Address each camp's specific concerns
As you are evaluating the pros and cons of each strategic alternative that you are considering, it's crucial to address each side's concerns. Jill asked a lot of questions and paid attention to both the facts and the emotions each team member expressed.
For example, Steve, the head of sales, had spent years building relationships with the leading HVAC service companies in each local market and with retailers. These people were not only business partners, they were friends. He felt strongly that if the company was to sell direct to consumers, it must find a way to partner with these sales channels to make them successful. Chris, who ran manufacturing and logistics, was most concerned about how the company would manage the thousands of individual shipments to consumers. Dana, who managed marketing, wanted a commitment from the board that the marketing budget would be maintained at robust levels, even if it took many months for direct-to-consumer sales to take off.
Jill made sure that any plan the team came up with addressed concerns such as those Steve, Chris, and Dana expressed.
Choose a path forward, then adjust course as you gain knowledge
The most common cause of stalemates is uncertainty about what the future will bring. And the best way to get facts to address these unknowns is to test the waters. Jill's team decided to collaborate with several HVAC services companies, to experiment with different ways of enlisting them as partners. Stocking local inventory, performing particularly tricky installations, and taking tech support calls were among the ways that HVAC services companies could potentially contribute. The "no-go" camp was surprised to learn that the HVAC suppliers actually liked Jill's company's new direct-to-consumer approach, because it enabled them to attract new customers for profitable maintenance contracts.
Manage the risks as you implement
Jill assigned one person on her team to manage each of the risks related to the direct-to-consumer approach. For example, Steve, the head of sales, worked with HVAC services companies to make sure their needs were met. Chris was in charge of managing inventory and shipments, and was measured on customer-service metrics related to delivery. Dana embarked on a process to build the brand online and was held accountable for marketing metrics, such as marketing cost per completed direct-to-consumer sale. Because each risk was explicitly managed, the team was able to press forward with tremendous speed and coordination.
Recognize both small and large wins on the path to success
As you pursue a new strategic path, it's essential to recognize and celebrate small wins. Jill made sure to celebrate even the small signs of progress each week, such as upticks in direct-to-consumer sales or favorable reviews online. This kept the energy high and helped the team to stay cohesive as they navigated the bumps on the road to success.
Whatever you do, don't let the polarization problem stop your company from pursuing bold growth strategies.
In our age of disruption, you must be agile and courageous. Letting fear and indecision slow you down is a huge mistake. In fact, it can be your death knell. Today's business climate rewards fast innovation and adaptability. And leaders who understand how to unleash employee creativity and build a culture of trust can help teams break stalemates and move ahead fearlessly.
Amanda Setili, author of Fearless Growth: The New Rules to Stay Competitive, Foster Innovation, and Dominate Your Markets, is president of strategy consulting firm Setili & Associates. www.setiliconsulting.com
Departments - Under the Microscope
This fungal pathogen reduces rose vigor and lowers aesthetic value.
Powdery mildew is caused by a fungal pathogen (Podosphaera pannosa or Sphaerotheca pannosa var. rosae) which infects the outer surface of the host plant. Its name reflects the distinctive grayish-white powdery mats or patches that form on plant tissue.
The fungal pathogen can infect any green tissue; thus, powdery mildew may be found on leaves, green stems, and flower parts. Young, tender growth is most susceptible. Leaves become distorted and eventually fall prematurely. Powdery mildew spores are easily spread by wind to nearby healthy plants.
Environment plays a major role in powdery mildew development. Disease incidence is most severe under cloudy, humid conditions when days are warm and nights are cool. Day temperatures in the 80s and high night humidity provide a favorable environment.
Newly unfolded leaves are the most susceptible to infection. Mature leaves are more resistant to infection and usually show no symptom development or, at most, only small local lesions.
Rose mildew overwinters as fungal growth (mycelium) on the stems, or within some of the dormant buds. When these buds resume growth in spring the shoots soon become completely covered with mildew. The fungus then spreads from these infected shoots (known as primaries) onto the rest of the plant.
Texas A&M University, Royal Horticultural Society
Photos: (rose w/foliage) Jody Fetzer, Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Bugwood.org (rose w/flower) Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org
Debunking the myths of hiring
Departments - Tip Jar
Four faulty beliefs that could be hindering your company’s selection process.
There's a shortage of skilled workers across all industries. You've likely experienced this skills shortage impact within your own organization, usually in the form of empty desks and jobs remaining unfulfilled for weeks or months at a time. As a business owner you've likely undergone an extensive selection process time and again to find the perfect candidates. You may assume that the skills shortage is to blame for the high number of open jobs, but the real problem is that businesses believe a dangerous set of myths around hiring, and that these myths are hurting organizations everywhere.
In both good times and bad, there have never been enough qualified job candidates to go around. But this talent shortage hasn't stopped some companies from filling their jobs quickly and keeping them filled. These businesses aren't just lucky. Rather, they have rejected the old ideas of hiring that continue to slow down many organizations today.
If you’re struggling to fill jobs, you need to thoroughly examine your beliefs about hiring. You must make sure you’re not buying into hiring principles that don't really benefit your company.
Myth #1: The skills shortage is the cause of hiring delays.
Hiring delays indicate a problem with your selection process, not a talent flow issue. Since there are never enough qualified candidates to go around, savvy leaders have realized they can't afford to engage in the old way of hiring that involves keeping a job open until the right person (finally) shows up. Instead, these leaders have made fast, accurate hiring a strategic imperative. They require managers to actively cultivate top talent and then waiting for the right job to become available. They realize that a job becoming available is a when situation, not an if situation. These forward-thinking leaders always plan for the when and so should you.
Myth #2: Hiring is exclusively an HR function.
While HR plays a vital role in hiring, the organizations that fill their jobs quickly understand that hiring is a team sport. Instead of treating hiring as an exclusively HR function, the most successful companies view employee selection as a leadership function supported by HR (and the talent acquisition team, if there is one). Everyone has a role, and under this framing, hiring managers communicate thoroughly and make hiring decisions swiftly while HR and the talent acquisition team supply talent and facilitate the process. And everyone, from the top down, generates talent through networking and requesting referrals.
Myth #3: You must hire slowly and fire quickly.
Unfortunately, this well-known business cliché is almost always bad advice. People who are slow to hire operate out of fear of making a bad choice. They have experienced the consequences of poor hiring choices, and in attempts to avoid this mistake again, they slow down the hiring process and believe that speed and accuracy are mutually exclusive.
This plodding approach to hiring leads to overanalysis and a protracted timeline. As a result, talented candidates move on and open jobs remain open. To counter this myth, progressive leaders have adopted a new mantra: Be fast to hire and quick to inspire. They mandate a hiring process that promotes rapid decision making and the nurturing of employee relationships.
Myth #4: This is how it's always been done, so it must be right.
Many organizations keep doing things the same way, even if that way is ineffective. For example, some companies have unwritten rules, such as reviewing a slate of 10 candidates before making a hire, even when a highly qualified candidate is identified among the first few candidates.
It's easier to maintain the status quo, especially when you're afraid that changing things won't work. But doing “business as usual” keeps companies stuck in the slow lane of hiring, losing them valuable time and top talent to faster competitors. Dispelling this myth requires a different mindset. Be willing to change and evolve, because you may get impressive results by trying something new.
As globalization increases, borders will matter less, creating a talent competition unlike anything we've ever seen. It's crucial to immediately disengage from those myths around hiring that prevent you from efficiently finding good employees. Once you counter the myths that are slowing your selection process, you'll see that good talent really isn't hard to find.
Scott Wintrip is author of High Velocity Hiring: How to Hire Top Talent in an Instant. As founder of Wintrip Consulting Group, he is pioneering improved methods for recruiting and interviewing job candidates. www.WintripConsultingGroup.com