By Mary H. Meyer, P. Bennett, B. Fair, J. E. Klett, K. Moore, H. B. Pemberton, L. Perry, J. Rozum, A. Shay, and M. D. Taylor
Switchgrass and little bluestem are native grasses found throughout most of the U.S. With this large native range, individual plants often exhibit considerable variation in height, foliage color and plant form. With many cultivars now available of these two grasses, we wanted to evaluate landscape performance of as many cultivars as possible of these species across the U.S.
Collaborators in eight states — Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Vermont (Table 1) — grew 17 switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and five little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) cultivars. Four additional locations in Florida (Fort Lauderdale, Fort Pierce, Quincy and Wimauma), Nebraska (Lincoln), and Texas (Lubbock and San Marcos) completed one or two years of the trials.
Plants were established in 2012 and data was collected during a three-year period from 2013-2015. Plugs from four growers — Kurt Bluemel Inc., (Baldwin, Md.); Emerald Coast Growers, (Pensacola, Fla.); Hoffman Nursery, (Rougemont, N.C.); and Walters Gardens, (Zeeland, Mich.) — were field planted with irrigation as needed the first year and minimal watering and management in the following three years. Most locations used organic mulch to control weeds.
Collaborators were asked to compile annual data on plant height; width; flowering time; fall color; pests; foliage color determined by Royal Horticultural Society’s color chart; plant form; flowering date; floral impact; self-seeding; winter injury; landscape impact; and mortality. Not all locations compiled all data, however height, width, survival, floral impact, landscape impact, and plant form were recorded at all of the eight locations that trialed plants for the full four years.
Three of the 17 switchgrass cultivars, ‘Cloud 9’, ‘Northwind’, and ‘Thundercloud’, had a rating of 4.0 or higher (on a 1-5 scale) when averaged over six or more locations for three critical traits: plant form, floral impact, and landscape impact (Table 3).
‘Shenandoah’ and ‘Warrior’ switchgrass had a rating of 4.0 or higher averaged over six or more locations for plant form and landscape impact, but not floral impact (Table 3). Only one of the five little bluestem cultivars, Blue Heaven, rated 4.0 or higher for plant form and landscape impact when averaged over six or more locations (Table 2).
Texas A&M Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Overton; Florida (Fort Lauderdale, Fort Pierce, Quincy and Wimauma), and Vermont had the highest mortality rate. Southern Florida locations lost 50 percent of their plants by the end of 2014. Wide variation was reported for landscape impact, individual cultivar height and width from different regions of the United States.
Individual results by year are online at the National Grass Trials site grasstrials.com. This range of variability in landscape plant performance demonstrates the importance of local plant evaluations. Complete data can be found in the published final report below by Meyer et al., 2017 in HortTechnology.
Meyer, M. H., P. Bennett, B. Fair, J. E. Klett, K. Moore, H. B. Pemberton, L. Perry, J. Rozum, A. Shay, and M. D. Taylor. 2017. Switchgrass and little bluestem cultivars show performance variation across eight states in National Grass Trials. HortTechnology 27:731-738. doi: 10.21273/HORTTECH03795-17.
Meyer, M.H. 2017. National grass trials. 14 July 2017. https://grasstrials.com.
Pemberton, B.H. and W. Roberson. 2001. The East Texas bedding plant pack and garden performance trials. HortTechnology 11:392-396.
Every nursery incurs debt. It’s a normal part of business operations. When it comes to managing that debt, keeping it from becoming a serious financial strain on your business, the job lies directly in your own hands. Your broker isn’t going to do it, your accountant isn’t going to do it, your brother-in-law isn’t going to do it. If you don’t do it, it’s not going to get done. And skillful management of your debt load is a primary requisite to avoid heading down the road to financial oblivion.
In debt management, as in life, knowledge is power. Knowing exactly what your debt load is on a periodic basis provides the foundation for taking control of those debts. It’s so important to calculate those obligations on a periodic basis. Whether the result is good news or bad news, you need to know where you stand and in what direction you are moving. An old business slogan cautions: “You can’t manage it if you can’t count it.” Nowhere is that more incisive than in debt management.
The job of calculating the debts and liabilities that must be charged against your business assets may not be a fun exercise, and it involves a bit of work, but it provides an essential dose of reality.
Here is a reminder of some of the liabilities that your business may have.
Credit card debt The almost universal use of credit cards practically guarantees that credit card debt is a part of the total debt obligations of your business.
Other charge accounts If you have any charge accounts with vendors, suppliers, or other businesses, these outstanding balances must be included as part of your total liabilities.
Payroll obligations Unpaid payroll expenses, if any, are a part of total debt load.
Outstanding loans Until you list them on paper or in your computer, you may not realize how fast they add up. In this category are auto loans, mortgages, business renovation or expansion loans, inventory purchases on credit, and the remaining balances on any other outstanding loans.
Outstanding bills Don’t forget those outstanding bills sitting in a drawer. This category includes unpaid workman’s compensation insurance, rent, business insurance, life insurance, medical insurance, auto insurance, and outstanding rent and utility bills.
Unpaid taxes Among the easiest to forget when calculating total debts and liabilities are unpaid taxes. This includes not only federal and state income tax bills or estimates due, but also real estate and personal property taxes due in some states as well as city and other local taxes.
Never forget that unpaid taxes run the risk of government intervention. Governments have the authority to seize your assets including bank accounts, even your personal assets such as your house or car.
All of these and any other debts that your business may have must be included to provide you with an exact picture of your debt load. Good accounting software is vital here. Without it, or a computerized spreadsheet, the job of keeping track of your debts on a periodic basis may take more time than you’re willing to spend.
Take a (debt) load off
If you find your business much deeper in debt than you imagined, there is no need for alarm, only an understanding that there are steps you must take to get that debt load back under control.
Once you have added up all your outstanding debts and the status of each one, you’ll know whether your debts are under careful control, or whether you have a debt load that is spiraling out of control to the point of endangering the future of your business. If your debts are growing, resulting in overdue payments, it’s time for you to take immediate action.
If you run your business as a sole proprietor or partnership, keep in mind that you could be held personally liable for business debts, which could result in creditors trying to seize your assets. This is one reason for forming a corporation, which offers some protection against this possibility
Like castor oil, the medicine required to bring unmanageable debt under control can be difficult to swallow. Obviously, the sensible way to avoid the catastrophic effects of overspending your limits is to start with strict personal discipline in the use of credit and credit cards. By never spending more than you can pay off when the bill arrives, you’ll separate yourself from the crowd.
Whether your debt load is heavier than you’d like, or within reasonable limits, these tips will help you to take and keep control of your spending.
Understand the need for debt control
Failure to keep payments up to date on all debts can result in irreparable damage to your business. Even one court action by a creditor can result in unrest by your employees, and possible limitations on your credit by suppliers.
Debt control is not a passive responsibility. It requires constant attention and action on your part.
Credit card debt
Arguably, there is no more dramatic illustration of the destructive potential of unmanaged debt than today’s use of credit cards. Just say, “charge it,” is the anthem of credit card issuers who are happy to lend you their money for your purchases knowing full well that a goodly percentage of users will be drawn into their highly profitable “minimum amount due” trap.
According to CreditCards.com, the average American household with at least one credit card had nearly $15,950 in credit card debt in 2017. Any person or business with that kind of balance due on a credit card has almost certainly been lured into the ploy of “minimum amount due.” By overspending their limits and paying only the minimum amount due each month, these unfortunate victims are saddled with an average interest rate on the balance that runs in the mid-to-high teens or higher at any given time.
For many, that combination of high debt and high interest rates produces a perfect storm of unmanageable debt from which it will be extremely difficult (and often impossible) to escape.
The obvious lesson: The only rational way to use credit cards is to spend no more than you can pay off in full every month. To ignore that dictum is to place yourself squarely in the clutches of the credit card monster.
For many people, that advice comes too late. For any business saddled with credit card and other types of debt, strong debt management medicine is the only cure. Stop further credit card purchases and unnecessary spending entirely. Pay down the balances on credit cards that charge the highest interest rates first while paying at least the minimum due on all your other debt. Once you’ve paid off your highest interest debt, pay down the next highest, and so on.
Don’t borrow money against your home or your 401(k) to pay off other business debts. What may seem like an easy solution could cause you to lose your home, your business, or undermine your retirement plans.
Beware of debt consolidation
Avoid the temptation of companies that offer to “consolidate” your debts into one easy-to-pay-off loan. In many cases, this will do nothing more than add another layer of debt. While there are reputable non-profit debt counseling agencies that may be able to consolidate debt and assist in better managing finances, there are also many disreputable agencies that are best avoided. Research carefully before taking this course to manage debt.
Avoid taking on new debt
Unless your debt load is manageable and under control, taking on new debt should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
Talk with creditors
If you are behind in any payments contact the creditor and make sure that he or she understands that you are working to catch up. Most creditors will tend to be lenient with a debtor who keeps in touch and shows evidence of making a sincere effort to pay off the debt.
Avoid aged payables of 60 days or more
Payables of 60 days or more will almost certainly lower your credit (fico) score, which in turn, will limit your ability to borrow money and keep you from getting the best terms from suppliers and vendors. Make every possible effort to avoid any payable from aging 60 days or more.
Rank your debts in the order that you want to pay them off. If credit card debt is part of your debt load, paying it off first will usually be your best move. Credit cards often have the highest interest rates of all debts. Carrying that debt can be very costly. If more than one credit card is involved, pay off the one with the lowest balance first.
Always know where you stand
Most experts agree that one of the most important tools for managing your debts is an exact knowledge of the amounts and types of those debts at all times. Good computerized software is essential for this task.
Business vs. personal finance
While there may be times when it may seem convenient to handle a business transaction with personal money, or vice versa, this is a serious mistake. Not only will it make it difficult to keep finances separate, it will make both your accountant and the IRS very unhappy. Don’t do it.
The best tool for managing debts
Obviously, the best way of all for managing debt is a conservative and disciplined approach to the use of credit before it becomes unmanageable.
Start with a system designed to keep track of how much you owe at any given time and to whom. Never fall into the trap of paying bills late. That is often the beginning of a downward spiral in debt responsibilities.
Never pay less than the minimum payment due. Some bills, credit cards for example, provide a “minimum payment” due. Paying only the minimum payment on such bills exposes you the often-oppressive interest rates charged by such creditors. Even worse is paying less than the minimum payment. This can be a financially catastrophic failure.
If possible, create an emergency fund set aside to fall back on in the case of an unexpected bill.
Create a computerized monthly bill payment calendar with reminders of dates due for regular repetitive bills.
Sometimes, debt loads seem to take on a life of their own. If, despite your best efforts, you find yourself in need of help in managing your debts, go to www.nfcc.org for in-depth, personalized financial counseling and education.
William J. Lynott is a freelance writer in Pennsylvania, specializing in business management, as well as personal and business finance; email@example.com.
Features - Women in Horticulture
Bridget Behe conducts cutting-edge marketing research to help the green industry sell more plants.
Often the consumer visits a garden center looking for something in particular, be it a tree, shrub, flower or vegetable. Many times, our industry can satisfy their need, but sometimes there is just that one plant that half the gardeners in the area want. The same goes for the trade. It’s the one they saw in a magazine, at a trade show or in a press release. What makes people want that plant so badly that they may go from store to store or source to source looking for it? (I have been guilty of doing the same thing — looking for the one particular Holy Grail of plants.)
It’s called horticultural marketing, and the woman who brought the industry to the forefront of it is Dr. Bridget Behe.
Behe, a native Pennsylvanian, was brought up near Penn State in Centre County, Pa. She says her two grandmothers were very influential in her horticulture career choice. Her maternal grandmother was a great flower grower and was even a rose “tester” for Jackson & Perkins. Her paternal grandmother was a great vegetable gardener.
Studying horticulture made perfect sense when it came time to go to college at Penn State. As she was nearing graduation, she interviewed with an influential greenhouse owner. She hoped to work there until he told her he was reluctant to hire her because she would be soon married and pregnant in no time and he would have wasted his money in training her. She was devastated by his remark. This was in 1982, long after the 1964 Civil Rights Act which includes Title VII that made it illegal for employers to discriminate against any individual on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” And yet it happened then and happens more subtly now. Behe said she was raised to believe she could do anything that any other person could do.
She has been known to say that “we’re all the same from the neck up,” meaning that men and women are equally capable of doing the same work, although she believes that women sometimes look at things differently. Behe says that discrimination is still there although it is “getting better” and that the “#metoo movement will speed up that process.”
In pursuit of education
Instead of going into the greenhouse business, she decided to attend graduate school. She considered Penn State, but was encouraged to broaden her horizons and look at other universities. She was intrigued by a program at Ohio State University led by Dr. Jerry Robertson. Although an agriculture economist by training, he was a professor in the horticulture department who was working on floral marketing issues. She was able to land an assistantship with him but unfortunately he was killed in an auto accident just six months after she started her master’s degree. She pleaded with professors in the Ag Econ, Horticulture and Marketing departments to let her continue the work, and this group of professors helped her through to graduation.
She received a grant from the Produce Marketing Association because there was no Floral Marketing Association yet. Her thesis covered consumers who bought flowers in supermarkets since, at the time, it was a new trend and market segmentation of florist consumers. Dr. Denny Wolnick from Penn State had an assistantship for a Ph.D open and she had been offered a job in California working in the industry on floral marketing. She took both the assistantship and continued her coursework in advanced consumer behavior and multivariate statistics. Multivariate statistics is a subdivision of statistics encompassing the simultaneous observation and analysis of more than one outcome variable. The application of multivariate statistics is multivariate analysis. As graduation loomed in 1989, there were few departments that were interested in the marketing aspect of horticulture.
She became the first female in the Horticulture Department at Auburn University in Alabama in the tenure stream. At Auburn her work consisted of floral and ornamental research, she was the greenhouse extension specialist, she taught classes, and was charged with gathering funds, including monies for graduate students.
When Michigan State University had an opening for a new faculty member, the job description was broadly written, calling for someone who was a plant nutrition expert, knew marketing and was able to teach. Behe finished her 20th year at Michigan State last August. At Michigan State, Behe investigates the consumer perspective of the horticulture industry for both edible and ornamental crops.
Her eye-tracking technology research can offer some critical insight to the industry, although she says the learning curve can be intense. Eye-tracking technology can help determine the location of pricing and other sign placement in garden center displays. Other research includes a study on how consumers look at plants displays with and without any posted pricing.
She’s been surprised at the difficulty in getting the industry to fund consumer research studies.
“Marketing is only a crisis when the firm is close to bankruptcy. It’s been a big challenge — surprise — how tough it’s been to get industry funding,” she says.
So how can the industry use her research to its advantage?
“Most companies don’t have the resources — people, knowledge, money — to collect their own consumer research. My results are designed to benefit different sized firms and ones from different geographic locations,” she explains.
Behe has “a big heart for the industry and has a passion for helping green industry businesses be more successful,” says Dr. Charlie Hall, the Ellison Chair in International Floriculture at Texas A&M University, and a fellow research collaborator.
“Bridget has enabled folks all across the green industry to peer into the minds of their consumers to see what makes them tick. She is a pioneer in using innovative market research techniques that provide insight regarding the purchasing habits of consumers and the analytics underlying their decision-making. And on top of that, she's a delightful person and I'm proud to call her my friend," he adds.
Behe says there is much to learn about consumers. Some consumer information is available online from various resources including the census data and her work. She suggests that growers and retailers look at these sources, think about their marketing plan and incorporate one or two changes or new elements a year.
Sometimes, marketing communications are not a company’s priority and it is a continuous challenge. And sometimes it falls to the bottom of the list. Behe suggests assigning one person to execute communications and to increase electronic communications. Companies should also track effectiveness through Google analytics and email openings, and retailers should take some of the data from their point-of-sale systems.
She really enjoys leading consumer research projects, but also likes teaching undergraduate courses in marketing and management.
“I still love to see former students that I taught, both at Auburn and at Michigan State, as happy, productive industry professionals. And many are parents now, which is also fun to watch,” she says. “It’s been an interesting and fun adventure to reflect back on. I never set out to be a college professor, but this path gave me the flexibility to take care of our young son…who had severe asthma as a young child and a great husband who traveled quite a bit for his job, with no family nearby. Somehow we made it work out.”
Denise is a professional horticulturist and garden writer based in Pittsburgh.
In the pink
Departments - View Point
One grower’s philanthropic decision has garnered $1 million for breast cancer research.
Dale Deppe, owner of Spring Meadow Nursery, announced during Cultivate’18 that the Invincibelle Spirit Campaign for a Cure has surpassed the company’s million-dollar fundraising goal for breast cancer research.
Spring Meadow, which introduced the Proven Winners ColorChoice Invincibelle Spirit hydrangea, started the fund to support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), www.bcrf.org. Since 2009, the Invincibelle Spirit Campaign has supported BCRF by donating $1 for every Invincibelle Spirit and Invincibelle Spirit II hydrangea sold, as well as through Pink Day cause marketing events, which are hosted by independent garden centers across North America.
The program began with Invicibelle Spirit, but the Invincibelle Spirit II hydrangea was also chosen “to exemplify the campaign because of its beautiful pink color and ability to thrive.”
Dale says BCRF was chosen because it is the highest rated breast cancer organization in the U.S. with an A+ rating from Charity Watch and 4 out of 4 stars from Charity Navigator. Allocating .91 of every $1.00 raised to research and awareness, BCRF provides critical funding that fuels advances in tumor biology, genetics, prevention, treatment, metastasis and survivorship.
Congratulations to Dale and his entire team, as well as the IGCs who host Pink Day.
I hope we can all take a lesson from Spring Meadow and find a way to give back. Strategize with your employees and see if there’s an organization or a cause they’d like to support. It certainly doesn’t have to be on the grand, million-dollar scale. Think locally and find a way to get involved somewhere. As my grandmother used to say, “You’ll be a blessing and you’ll get a blessing.”
And if you’re trying to recruit the next generation, companies that are charitable are appealing to millennials. (Heck, us gen-xers love that, too.)
If you’re supporting a cause like cancer or other illnesses, that opens up an opportunity to talk about the healthful and healing aspects of plants. Revisit our May issue on pages 34-35 to see the #PlantsDoThat infographic (or here www.nurserymag.com/article/plantsdothat-may-2018/) or go to consumerhort.org where the National Initiative for Consumer Horticulture explains the powerful benefits of plants.
Departments - Green Guide
Good for borders or large containers, this deciduous perennial is highly attractive to pollinators.
Several years ago, I had a memorable conversation with Alex LaVilla, perennial plant buyer extraordinaire at distinguished Swanson’s Nursery in Seattle, Washington. I asked him, “Are there plants you would like to be able to offer your customers that you’re having difficulty sourcing from regional wholesale nurseries?” On the list was Rodgersia, a deciduous perennial genus native to East Asia, including China, Japan and the Korean peninsula.
Rodgersiamake a bold impact in the woodland garden with large pinnate or palmate leaves, depending on species, and Astilbe-like flowers ranging from white to red. They are ideal for large borders in full sun to partial shade, or as a larger background planting. Larger forms reach a height of 3-4 feet, with flowers held another 12-18 inches above the plant. They prefer moist, rich soils with lots of humus. Regular watering is necessary during dry weather. The plants spread slowly from rhizomes, or by seeding.
The plant was named after Admiral John Rodgers who commanded a naval expedition to Japan and Korea in the 1870s where seed of Rodgersia podophylla was first collected. Subsequent horticultural exploration in East Asia has yielded six species of Rodgersia, with R. aesculifolia, R. pinnataandR. podophyllabeing the most horticulturally and commercially significant. It should be noted that there is considerable cross pollination and interbreeding between Rodgersia species, leading to numerous hybrids. Garden settings with multiple species of Rodgersia can begin to exhibit genetic drift over time, as seedlings grow and mature in a planting. This is important to understand from a grower’s standpoint — make sure the seed or plugs you purchase or collect are from a known, reputable source where cross-pollination cannot have occurred.
Why grow Rodgersia?
The large leaves and size of the plant make it an eye-catching focal point in the garden.
It has visually attractive flower panicles ranging from white to red.
It’s highly attractive to pollinators.
It’s resistant to common pests like slugs or cutworms.
It’s an excellent choice for large containers.
Rodgersia makes a stunning border.
Mark Leichty is the Director of Business Development at Little Prince of Oregon Nursery near Portland. He is a certified plant geek who enjoys visiting beautiful gardens and garden centers searching for rare and unique plants to satisfy his plant lust. firstname.lastname@example.org