Teagasc Nursery Stock E Bulletin number 3 and Covid 9 effects on sector

Teagasc logo
I hope that you, your family and colleagues are well and safe at this unprecedented time. For our sector, there has already been a colossal immediate impact of the control measure for COVID-19.

Plant sales of shrubs, bedding and perennial nurseries were hit badly last week, many nurseries getting no orders, at a time which should see a peak in sales. This creates a space utilisation difficulty as outgoing stock is required to make space for newly planted stock. As of today, Tuesday, the picture is uncertain for retail. UK garden centres have just been closed for 21 days until at least  April 14th, Easter Sunday. Online trade can continue during this time. I’ve spoken with some growers canceling orders of young plants, most are waiting to see what happens.

Tree sales have also dropped but the timing comes with improved ground conditions and planting needing attention.

Reports I’ve received are that most garden centres are open for business, though a few have shut e.g. Powerscourt, Springmount and Glanbia plant stores. Most cafes/restaurants are closed with limited takeaways in a few. Internet sales are good by all accounts and some garden centres have set up click and collect e.g. Arboretum and Newlands Garden Centres and Fernhill offer a personal shopper and payment in the carpark. Many online garden retailers are advising of possible delays in delivery due to the volume of demand. I’ve been told that many garden centres are busy with sales of seed, veg plugs, seed potatoes and tools. This is good for cash flow and will keep people busy.

Landscaping has been mixed, some bigger projects are on hold on a week by week review. Landscape maintenance varies widely and will depend on the client’s needs and safety of the landscape crew.

The European situation as of today is that there are significant restrictions in plant retail. My understanding is that only Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal and Germany (except Bavaria) have garden centres open as normal. In some countries e.g. Italy, nursery businesses are still open. The widely shared video clips of the flower action in Netherlands dumping flowers is a harsh sight for growers.

Teagasc have begun weekly briefings to DAFM of the situation in horticulture. I will continue to keep in touch with as many as I can to report the impact to growers. It is important that on the ground information is available to relate to them.

Our nursery sector has been brilliant at supporting one and other during previous challenges and I know that we will look out for our friends and colleagues over the coming months. Please keep in touch and stay safe.

planted crops

Managing stock in these uncertain times is challenging. There are a few ways we can buy time and maintain high quality.

  • Consider prioritising stock for key sectors; veg and herb plugs are in demand,
  • Youngstock in smaller sizes might have more appeal than bigger finished stock as time is available now to nurture plants.
  • Smaller pot size may suit online sales
  • Perennials plugs planned for 2-3l could be potted into P9s, giving a few weeks to see how markets return.
  • Slowing stock development by spacing and growing as cool as possible
  • Hormone (PGR) treatment of some plug and liner stock can slow development and increase branching
    • annuals, perennials and woody plants e.g. lavender can be considered, see below
  • Limited flower delay with some PGR treatments e.g. Configure and Salvia, Pansy etc.
  • Some perennials can take a “hair cut” and allow them to flush later.
  • Limited potential to refrigerate some herbaceous perennials if they have not  started growth yet

Impacts of a product containing Ethephon on flowering of Angelonia. Source Greenhouse Product News 

Plant Growth Regulators

They might be used at very low rates but PGRs have a huge impact on plants. April is normally the busiest month for their use in pot plants and bedding. We are now seeing them increasingly being used with perennials also.

Benefits include; greener, more compact plants, better branching and drought resilience. Some PGRs may result in disease reduction also e.g. daminozide and chloromequat.
There has been a lot of change in the PGR products over the recent years; coming, going and coming back again. A number of key PGRs have lost registration – Bonzi/Paclobutrazol has been gone for some time but Pirouette replaces it with the same active ingredient. However, some new choices are now available to us for use on woody plants: Trinexapacethyl e.g. Freeze and Prohexadione Calcium e.g. Regalis. Recently approved Benzyladenine marketed as Configure is useful to increase branching. There is much guidance available to help growers with this very useful product. Configure has in some instances delayed flowering also.

There are some excellent online resources and many suppliers will give guidance on PGR timing and rates.

GrowerTalks  by Ball Publishing has excellent guides with rates and recommendations – USA based so watch out for gallons and some non approved products.
Plant Growth Regulation January 2019 Ball Colegrave
PGR Guide for Annuals 2019-2020
PGR Guide for Perennials 2020
E Gro webinars on Youtube is well worth a look – e.g. PGR on hostasPGRs on Heuchera & Hints and tips for spring

Please contact me to discuss PGR options suitable for your production system.

Bedding – Hygiene, plug care, damping off

  • Between each crop cycle clean paths & growing surfaces of organic matter and sterilise:
    • chlorine compounds, e.g. sodium hypochlorite (Bleach)
    • peroxides e.g. Hydrogen peroxide (Huwa-San), Peroxyacetic acid (Sanprox, Horti-Cleanse), Peroxygen (Virkon S)
  • Chlorine dioxide and Hydrogen peroxide were shown to be safe in a trial of bedding and hardy nursery stock plants. Where damage was seen it was with repeated concentrated applications, the worst damage was seen on flowers. Word of caution, Hypochlorite can be highly phytotoxic by vapour or root uptake.
  • Separate old and new stock as much as possible
  • Clean water
    • Remove as much physical material from the water with filters before using any other water treatment
  • See AHDB Fact sheet Use of chemical disinfectants in protected ornamental plant production (pdf).

Care of Plugs on Arrival
Some advice from Ball Colegreve

  • Visual check on arrival.
  • Place the plants in a reasonably warm glasshouse 16-18ºC on open benches,
  • Allow the plants to settle and acclimatise for 2-3 hours.
  • Water the plugs evenly with plain water, allow foliage to dry before night time.
  • Transplant within 3-5 days, priorities smaller plug sizes
  • Ensure the plugs are thoroughly moistened before transplanting.
  • Handle the young plants gently
  • Water with a weak feed solution to provide a good start.
  • Ventilate to encourage the plant’s system to be active and establish roots.

Plant protection products.

Damping-off of the delicate stock is a key concern. Pythium and Rhizoctomnia (images above) are the main culprits of this disease, the classic symptom being collapsed seedlings. Both diseases require damp conditions to thrive. Good hygiene is the first priority for growers: keep clean pots/tray separate from old dirty ones and store off the ground, clean all growing surfaces with a  disinfectant prior to setting down and avoid overwatering. Review your programme from last year as products have changed e.g. Fenomenal is no longer permitted for use.

Please contact me for recommended IPM and plant protection product options.

Positive mental health 

Our stress levels are bound to be higher during this time but we can work to alleviate some of the triggers. The HSE has some simple guidelines on their web page:
HSE Minding your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak

  • Stay informed but set limits to news and social media
  • Keep up your healthy routines
  • Stay connected to others
  • Talking to children and young people
  • Try to anticipate distress and support each other
  • Don’t make assumptions
  • Online and phone supports are widely available

Teagasc Advisory – Nursery Stock & Ornamentals Newsletter March 2020