Hoffman Nursery specializes in ornamental grasses, but deals with the same fungal pathogens that plague other growers. Rhizoctonia and Pythium particularly love the moist, high-water environment that occurs in the early stages of propagation when the plants are on a mist schedule.
The Rougemont, N.C. wholesale grower propagates about 85 percent of its production, either vegetatively or from seed.
During propagation, the nursery faces pest pressure from everything from fungus gnats to aphids to spider mites, but mealybugs are the biggest problem. We spoke with Scott Epps, nursery manager for Hoffman Nursery, about how he handles his plant health challenges.
Read on for Epps’ 8 tips for pest and disease prevention.
Start with good stock material.
It amazes me that the better stock plant, the stronger plant you start with, the better it can be at handling anything that is thrown at it. Inspect your stock material, ensure it is well taken care of and healthy, with no issues.
Be proactive with plants that need it.
On specific plants, like some of the sedges, we do preventative fungicide applications prior to propagation so we are a step ahead. Then we are preventatively taking care of something that might happen in the propagation phase. That is a strategy we play with Rhizoctonia. We treat something that might be more prone to it a month, or even six weeks prior to dividing it.
Know your enemy.
Good clean stock is key, but incorporating good scouting is really important. We have growers in charge of different ranges, and they scout their area once a week. Then they turn in their scouting notes to our plant health specialist. They really look at our plants frequently, monitor them frequently and deal with any problem prior to it becoming a big problem. For us, the harder pests to deal with and control are mealybugs. It’s a challenging pest for grasses, because of where they end up hiding. Usually they end up hiding underneath the leaf sheath, which makes them difficult to get to. With mealybugs, we might use Safari and Distance, which is an insect growth regulator.
Keep it clean.
I’m a huge believer in sanitation. I like a really clean greenhouse, a clean environment. We try to make sure we don’t have weeds growing in greenhouses, don’t have debris everywhere. Sanitize your cutting tools. Generally, use best management practices when it comes to things like that.
Be smart about watering.
Crops we know are more sensitive, we try to water them in a time of day when we know they will dry out. That way we won’t have an extended period of leaf wetness. Sometimes we will modify the media. We will add extra perlite to help with drainage if it’s a more sensitive crop. We will also try to wean them off the sub-mist schedule as quickly as we can to prevent overwatering.
Improve your airflow.
Air flow can be big. We grow primarily in hoop houses, so most of our plants are on gravel beds. But sometimes we will elevate trays to improve the airflow around them. That’s another step we take to control things.
Be selective with what you grow.
As a grass supplier, we know there are a lot of new plants that come along. We try to be selective with what we add. We’ve brought in plants before that are nice, but once you start growing them you realize that they are just weak. We try, as best we can, to avoid growing plants that are weak. Those are the first ones that have problems, and obviously our customers wouldn’t want those as well.
Slow things down.
We also reduce fertility so the plants aren’t growing so quickly, which sometimes makes them more prone to fungal pathogens. It really depends on the plant. Fungal pathogens are really hard to control. The spores are floating around in the air. Sometimes you just can’t prevent it but hopefully you can take a lot of steps to either help the plant fight it or keep it from becoming a real problem.
For more: www.hoffmannursery.com
Photos courtesy of Hoffman Nursery.