Botrytis cinerea is in the Ascomycete family Sclerotiniaceae. Like its cousin Sclerotinia sclerotiorum (white mold or rot of bedding plants), it forms sclerotia (hardened, asexual resting structures) in decaying plant matter that has rotted as a consequence of infection and fungal colonization.
Crops like coreopsis, dianthus, heuchera, lavender and rudbeckia can be especially vulnerable to botrytis blight in the spring when they have a full flower canopy. Weather conditions are also an important factor in botrytis blight outbreaks. This is a fungus that prefers cloudy, rainy weather. Showers followed by cool weather are ideal conditions for the gray mold caused by Botrytis cinerea to develop in ornamental nurseries. While diseases caused by Botrytis are not aggressive on mature tissues or woody plants, the fungus rapidly attacks fleshy or juvenile tissues such as flower petals, new shoots or tender growth of bedding plants or other annual crops.
Sources: Michigan State University Extension, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Physostegia virginiana ‘Variegata’
Departments - Green Guide
Consider bringing back this perennial for its long bloom period combined with bold foliage and its value to pollinators.
Admittedly, I’m a sucker for anything variegated. My garden is a testament to this profound and continuing addiction. Interesting foliage can offer a lengthier contribution out in the garden in comparison to the limited duration of flowering interest. While a progression of bloom is welcome in our gardens, a crisp variegation can catch the eye and anchor a composition for months. Couple a sharp variegation with an amazingly long period of bloom, native origin, impressive durability and value for pollinators and you have the variegated obedient plant. Surprisingly, this selection is not easy to locate and the only hope of rescuing it from obscurity is to have more gardeners grow, appreciate, recommend, and seek out this amazing plant. This is one of my favorite perennials in general (not just for the variegation).
Planting obedient plant, a member of the Lamiaceae family, in the garden does raise some legitimate concerns about spreading. The joke still circulates that obedient plant is anything but “obedient” in the garden due to it absorbing more garden real estate at a steady pace. I’ve never regretted planting any obedient plants over the years and the combination of vigilance and commitment to a certain level of annual attention can keep this plant constrained. Varieties such as ‘Miss Manners’ and ‘Pink Manners’ are promoted as more constrained selections. It’s important to note that this variegated form is not inclined to spread quickly. I’ve been growing this plant for 20 years now and the spreading has been minimal and never fostered regrets in having planted it! Establishment and vigor are certainly affected by soil type and available moisture, but this plant is extremely adaptable. While preferring rich, moist soils, obedient plant can tolerate dry soils but really enjoys damp locations.
Preferring full sun or partial shade, this plant reaches a height of about 24 inches with the summer flowering height topping out at about 32 inches or so. The upright habit is quite nice although the lower stems can appear a bit leggy and benefit from some surrounding “skirting” plants. Any green reversions should be removed promptly. Cutting back the plant to 6 inches or so in June will result in a more compact, bushier habit and more numerous and stronger flower spikes. The variegation is sharp and pronounced over all the foliage and the pink flowers show well for many months. The flowers are easy to appreciate and bloom from the bottom of the spike upwards as the spikes continue to extend over the summer months. Observing pollinators visiting this plant is very common with frequent visitors to include bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Why grow Physostegia virginiana ‘Variegata’?
Bold and impactful variegated foliage
Significant pollinator value
Extremely cold hardy
Deer and rabbit resistant
Highly tolerant of urban pollution
Great cut flower
Mark Dwyer is currently the Garden Manager for the Edgerton (WI) Hospital Healing Garden after 21 years as Director of Horticulture at Rotary Botanical Gardens (Janesville, WI). He also operates Landscape Prescriptions by MD, a landscape design and consultation business. email@example.com
Here we are, in 2022. We start the New Year where we left the past one. Our industry, like so many others, is facing unique challenges and exciting opportunities – especially in the areas of employee hiring and retention.
We’re well aware of “The Great Resignation” that began during the height of the pandemic and proceeded through all of 2021. So, I won’t rehash the well-documented statistics, reasons and projections for where we are as a national workforce and how it all impacts our industry. For that background, take a look at Charlie Hall’s research on the AmericanHort website and state-of-the-industry coverage in issues of this magazine.
What I will talk about is why it’s a smart idea to secure your employee bench no matter what condition the economic climate is in or our industry’s workforce.
This concept came to me years ago while reading Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great.” If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend doing so if you’re in a leadership position or aspire to be. Jim’s premise for hiring – and retaining – great employees is that the right person has to be on the right bus and in the right seat.
“Securing the bench” (my analogy since I come from a sports family) is a mindset of resiliency. It’s a switch in thinking from “I need to fill that position” to “how can I expand the culture of my business to attract and retain the right partners to help my company meet its goals and reach its full potential?”
Here’s how I see my team.
Sure, it’s my name, and my dad’s, behind the risk, liability and day-to-day operations that are the bottom line of the business. But that talented team of employees I have out there, working hard and representing us well? They are our partners. They are the compass that points our business in the direction we’ve defined as a team together. Loma Vista Nursery cannot as effectively meet its goals or reach its full potential without its partners.
If we’re looking to fill vacancies, manage people’s personalities and get them to show up on time – then yep, it’s a grind and it’s hard. Securing the bench with the right people in the right positions provides flexibility in good times and peace of mind to withstand challenging climates.
Our employee playbook – something I recommend every company develop for their business – outlines roles, responsibilities and procedures in detail for all members of our team. Work with your employees to create one, and then review it and update it together regularly and make sure new hires become part of the conversation, too.
Here are five strategies for securing your bench.
Anticipate and plan
Anticipate that staff will leave; you will have turnover. Plan for it.
Practicing open communication, active listening and setting realistic roadmaps for individual and company success is part of the “anticipate and plan” process. Involve employees in planning from the get-go so they understand the objectives.
Have open dialogue about processes, procedures, what works and what doesn’t and update the playbook together. Review it often. This ensures buy-in from everyone on the team and that is in everyone’s best interest.
With playbook in hand, cross-train your people to double-check that the execution of roles and responsibilities is correct. Compare notes, document clarifications and make playbook changes together. Should they need to step in, someone who is cross trained knows the playbook is current and accurate because they were part of the process.
Craft your culture
Create a culture that attracts and retains people who are excited about the journey you’re taking together. We’re always asking ourselves what we’re doing to attract and retain talent and if we have the right measures in place to ensure our business is resilient when someone leaves.
We’re also realistic that not every candidate who applies will be qualified for a seat on our bench. I care way more about attitude than skill set because a lot of what we do can be learned and attitude underlines our culture.
A company that is active in its industry, gives back to its community and supports the professional development of its employees is an exciting place to work. A culture that is positive, nurturing and encourages teamwork builds trust, confidence and internal bonds that are motivating and inspiring.
Give employees permission to be your company’s ambassadors. This gives employees visibility in the industry, elevates their professional status and is good for your brand. Because they know you support them, encouraging their involvement builds loyalty and confidence.
Lead with communication
Don’t expect employees at all levels of your company to read your mind and don’t expect to read theirs either.
In my experience, nailing the job description is the No. 1 way to have a good start with new hires and maintain open communication with employees. We provide detailed information when we develop our job descriptions and we involve employees who have cross-trained in the open position to weigh in.
Our HR manager checks in with new employees at 30, 60 and 90 days and we tweak along the way. We meet twice annually with current employees to revisit their responsibilities and help them identify and meet their professional goals. This two-way communication is at the heart of our culture.
We pay close attention to how we communicate with employees and onboard new hires because that sets the tone for the employee/employer relationship. Modeling leadership with managers and staff defines their day and the commitment they make to their work.
We don’t ever know for sure what’s in someone else’s head and that’s where transparent communication comes in. Ask questions about how the team member views themselves and their role in the company and what they aspire for that to be.
I’ve found that telling the story of our company and its culture – and reminding employees of their individual successes – helps them internalize its values and feel ownership in their contributions. It also lets them know that I’m proud to have them on our team.
Accept honest mistakes
Education and training go hand-in-hand when you’re staffing positions and securing your bench, along with acceptance that honest mistakes are going to happen.
What do we do as business owners and leaders when we make a mistake? We get in there. We figure stuff out. We learn a few things. Then we move on.
We can’t have a different expectation of our people. That’s not fair. They also need to learn by making mistakes – and the thing about making mistakes is that when they happen so does growth.
As long as they aren’t mistakes that are going to put you out of business or cost the company more than they can afford to part with, employees have to be allowed to make mistakes because especially in the business we’re in – mistakes can happen and I’m not talking about the fat finger on the keyboard that inverses a number.
I’m talking about trying something new that might get a better result but may or may not work. You don’t know unless you try and I always want my team to try. Especially in plant production, it’s pretty important to have wiggle room for mistakes.
Of course, a culture of doing things the right way and following the process is key, but there has to be room for ingenuity and creativity. That’s where flexibility comes in – our playbook provides for processes that we want people to follow, but my belief is that if you think there’s a better way to do something, let’s try it. If it works, we’ll update the process.
Lead with intention
Those competing for our employees most likely aren’t in our industry.
They could be Walmart, Amazon or even city governments. We have to be financially competitive to those employers and that can be tough, but our industry offers benefits that are unique to us. We try really hard to understand what it’s like to be an employee at the companies outside of the green industry that we compete with for employees – and then we tell our story.
Investing leadership and energy in our brand’s growth and its role in the marketplace is my job 365 days of the year and I couldn’t do it without my partners and their support. My intention is very much on them, their growth and their success. For sure that benefits our company and for sure it benefits our industry.
Attracting and retaining talent requires wages at or above market. Job satisfaction requires communication. Professional growth requires work/life balance.
Being in the driver’s seat of a company requires understanding that we are all human and that we all have personal needs for health, safety and happiness. It’s true that respect and honesty makes the days better and relationships stronger. That impacts our bottom line.
It’s normal to panic when a valuable employee leaves but go ahead and panic only for a minute. Then, rest easy that you have a playbook in place to fall back on. You have cross-trained your people, your employees are positioned in the right spot on the bench, and they appreciate the company’s values and thrive in its culture.
You have managers who are confident, secure and resilient and are on board to help you find the right next person for that open seat. Because that talent that you need “right now” to help with the coming season? It’s out there.
Lyndsi Oestmann is president of Kansas-based Loma Vista Nursery, a family legacy business founded in 1991 by her father, Mark Clear. Lyndsi is a member of the AmericanHort board of directors and she and her team are active participants in the horticulture industry. Photo by Steve Puppee
Kentucky needs our help
Departments - View Point
The UK Research and Education Center was completely leveled by a December tornado.
On the night of Dec. 11, a powerful tornado formed in northwestern Arkansas and carved a path of destruction across the western half of Kentucky, and the University of Kentucky Research and Education Center in Princeton took a direct hit.
Dr. Win Dunwell, extension specialist at the center, checked in on Facebook and said he and his family were not harmed in the storm. By daylight, UKREC employees, led by director Carrie Knott, worked through the weekend, securing and caring for animals, assessing damage and offering support.
Three days after the tornado, the university opened two temporary office buildings and two temporary storage buildings on-site for UKREC personnel.
“The outpouring of community support has been very humbling to us,” Knott said. “We are not closing our doors, but we will look a little different and be a little more fragmented at least for the near future.”
The center, which was established in 1925, underwent a major renovation and addition in 2019.
Numerous counties are dealing with the aftermath of the destructive tornadoes, and the UK Cooperative Extension Service is diligently working with area organizations to meet the needs of tornado victims.
Extension has partnered with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to offer support for affected ag and hort producers. Here are some of the relief funds, if you wish to donate.
The Kentucky Division of Emergency Management is also accepting donations and relief effort volunteer applications. Individuals can offer to donate supplies or apply to volunteer at https://arcg.is/8aqnO.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has partnered with the Kentucky Farm Bureau to develop a GoFundMe account at https://gofund.me/6855c668.
Fellow GIE Media publications Lawn & Landscape and Garden Center magazines recently published their respective State of the Industry issues. Here are some insights from your customers in those markets, many of whom are dealing with the same challenges you are.
Last year, companies were bursting at the seams with work. Yes, there were challenges like lack of labor and supply chain delays, but overall, business was good for those in the landscape and lawn care industry. The numbers this year are still solid, but the percentage of companies that made a profit declined. This year, 79% said they turned a profit, while 87% said the same last year. As far as revenues, the mean increased to $1.29 million compared to $1.03 million in last year’s report. The median took a slight dip, falling to $273,000 — which was also the median revenue in Lawn & Landscape’s 2019 report — from $297,000.
But confidence in growth next year for the industry overall is trending up. Only 3% are not confident the industry will grow in 2021 compared to 10% last year. But landscape and lawn care professionals aren’t as confident in their own business growing with 8% percent responding they aren’t confident at all that they will grow. But that is still an improvement compared to 11% last year.
Labor is still a top concern for landscapers, but for the first time in years, fuel costs ranked slightly higher.
Zack Stratton, CEO of Stratton & Bratt, says the Utah-based company’s fuel bill is reaching $20,000 a week. However, Stratton says he isn’t too worried about the expense.
“For a company of our size, our fuel costs are really just a marginal part of $20 million in sales,” he says. “Even a $100,000 bump in fuel costs doesn’t really move the needle much for us.”
Stratton & Bratt’s fuel spending goes to power the fleet and equipment needed for crews to be operating at peak performance. Years ago, the company developed a strategy for implementing fuel surcharges when prices began to creep up too high.
“We thought about it six years ago when there was another big spike in fuel costs. We got together with the team and added at the bottom of all our contracts the opportunity for us to come back and give a surcharge if fuel costs rise above a certain amount,” Stratton says. “At the end of the year, we sat down and made that mark. Last year, we decided that for anything over $3.25 a gallon, we reserve the right to add a surcharge to the bill.”
So far in 2021, Stratton says they’ve been selective in utilizing the surcharge.
“We’ve exercised it on a handful of our larger accounts that use a lot more fuel and a lot more equipment,” he says.
And while some might think that a surcharge would be a surefire way to upset clients, Stratton says his customers have been surprisingly empathetic.
“I think by and large our client base has been pretty receptive and understanding to price increases,” he says. “Just because of the overall competitive landscape of what’s going on... Obviously, they have their limits, but a 3% increase hasn’t been much for them to swallow.”
The State of the Industry research indicates most contractors are worrying less about COVID than they were in the year prior, but as phrases like “Delta variant” and “booster shot” become more common, so does the precariousness of the pandemic.
When you compare 2020 and 2021 survey responses, you can tell COVID concerns are diminishing. In 2020, 19% more landscapers said they were “very concerned” about COVID’s effect on the industry. In the 2021 survey, nearly 35% of landscapers surveyed said they were “not at all concerned.”
Takeaways from the Garden Center Market
The estimated 18 million new gardeners who flooded the market last year continued to hit garden centers this spring, driving spring 2021 sales over spring 2020 sales for nearly three-quarters of IGCs that participated in this year’s State of the Industry survey. Despite the challenges of staffing, supply chain issues and the always unreliable spring weather, 95% of garden centers are expecting to turn a profit this year. The increasing customer base was the biggest positive factor for garden centers over the past year, followed by the economy but staffing, as always, was the biggest challenge, followed by availability of product.
Garden centers are not only dealing with product shortage, but increased shipping costs for the materials they are able to get. In fact, only 7% of IGCs indicated that they are not impacted by rising shipping costs and only 11% said they are not experiencing plant or product shortages. Plant shortages and shipping issues are likely bumping up the number of grower-retailers, which has been steadily rising over the past five years but jumped by 10 percentage points this year alone.
Last year, only 15% of independent garden centers were paying $15 an hour or more, while this year, more than a quarter are offering a starting wage that high. The impact of increasing minimum wages is also a bigger factor in why garden centers are having trouble hiring, rising a full 10 percentage points this year over last. However, the lack of available or qualified employees continues to be the biggest hindrance in hiring, which is one thing that hasn’t changed in the past few years.
However, even combining the increased cost of materials, shipping AND labor, garden centers are coming out on top. Projected profits are up over last year and despite the fact that spring sales skyrocketed last year, three-quarters of IGCs reported an increase in spring sales again this year. Those spring sales increases are smaller than last year, but considering the COVID sales boom, it speaks volumes to the industry’s success with new gardener.
Page 28, sales chart, just the left side: “Which one area saw the biggest increase in sales at your garden center this spring?
Supply chain problems
In the wake of the global supply chain disruption, IGCs are getting creative with alternative stocking strategies and pre-planning purchases.
Nearly a year and a half after adapting to the demands of COVID-19, garden center owners have to rethink their business tactics once again as they face a different challenge: servicing the steady rate of customers with barriers to inventory. Now, as the industry fights the global tide of continued pot delays and plant scarcities, many owners have had to shift their strategies to prepare for the coming year and beyond.
Jeff Jones, owner of Great Gardens in Torrington, Wyoming, says that the industry as a whole has been hit hard with tree and shrub shortages. Great Gardens grows many annual plugs and dormant and young perennials to finish. Luckily, he says, they’ve had no issues receiving plant materials. And while his supplier has reported seed shortages, Jones says it wasn’t a significant percentage of product. Occasional shortages and substitutions happen every year, which is expected.
Instead, he worries about plastic goods, specifically, 2.5-, 3.5- and 4.5-inch growing pots for plugs. Jones fears he may not acquire enough growing pots for plant materials. In addition, he says rumors are swirling amongst his industry friends that suppliers that accepted orders may not deliver pots until April — far too late in the season.
If there’s room, please run both supply chain graphs from pg. 28
Jones says that 4.5-inch pots, which he sells the most of for annuals, have increased nearly double or triple the cost.
“We’re not talking about 10% inflation; we’re talking about crazy inflation,” he says. “I ordered a pallet and I got that cost down to 15 cents per pot, which is double what it was one or two years ago. But I’m in a situation where I think, ‘Well, I don’t care what it costs. I just need to have it.’”
Rick Thomas, who co-owns Bethany Plants and Produce with his wife, Tammy, says they’ve had a tough time getting pots, perennials, Proven Winners varieties and hostas. Some of the plant materials they ordered earlier in the year were so delayed that Thomas didn’t receive them until October. He almost didn’t accept the shipment but decided against it because it’s a gamble to see what, if anything, will be available in the spring. In his experience, vendors take three to six months to fulfill orders, so Thomas purchased large volumes early this year.
One of his Michigan suppliers, Mast Young Plants, provided retailers with a discount if they placed orders by Nov. 1, which has helped keep costs down. Thomas notes that ordering early helps ensure the arrival of a consolidated shipment, which allows him to capitalize on shipping.
Located in the rural town of Reidsville, North Carolina, Thomas is hesitant to raise prices, considering they compete with other businesses in the Greensboro market. While they have increased prices a little, the business is eating some of the cost.
“You have to keep your price points at a certain area. Otherwise, you’re going to price yourself out of sales,” he says.
Thomas has had to get creative with substitutes for Proven Winners’ flowering shrubs and notes that most of the variations are selling tremendously well, along with shrubs with unique foliage. Of course, it helps that customers now are looking for different varieties instead of standard options.
“The thing I love about the Proven Winners line is you have lots of different flowering shrubs that are takes on some of the older shrubs,” he says. “For example, a lot of the old yards here have the old-fashioned sweet shrub and the newer varieties of it sell really well.”
Survey methodologies: The 2021 Lawn & Landscape State of the Industry survey sample included 17,240 readers with the titles of owner, president, partner, executive or general manager at a landscaping company. lawnandlandscape.com/magazine/issue/october-2021/