Capital Press | Nursery Capital Press Thu, 7 Jun 2018 11:31:41 -0400 en Capital Press | Nursery Native seed business takes root Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:25:22 -0400 Aliya Hall ALBANY, Ore. — Sarah Stutzman and Michele Santoyo didn’t realize how hard their dad, Craig Edminster, worked until they joined him at Pacific NW Natives a few years ago.

“You have to be a glutton for punishment,” Stutzman said about their native seed production enterprise. “My dad works his a-- off, always has.”

Edminster started Pacific NW Natives in 1996 after working as a research scientist for a cooperative of Western farmers.

It was there that Edminster’s interest in native plant species began.

“Natives are quite unique. I didn’t switch 100 percent; I needed a day job,” he said. “The native seed business was strong east of the Cascades because it was funded by (Bureau of Land Management) money. But I saw it was a growth market with not a lot of competitors.”

The Albany, Ore., business struggled for the first couple of years, and most of the seed was taken to the dump, he said. However, Edminster continued to contract with organizations such as the Calapooia Watershed Council, FFA and 4-H. Eventually they also contracted with the BLM for a program based on indefinite delivery and indefinite quantity, which funded Edminster because his seeds were good for forest restoration.

“That’s what really put us on the map. Private dollars aren’t going to make this industry grow over a couple of years; public dollars are the way to get this thing going,” Edminster said.

The biggest learning curve, Edminster said, was not knowing when to cut the grass, how to fertilize it, and if it needed irrigation or required a combine.

“Every population is different; even in the same gene of species,” he said.

Stutzman and Santoyo said it was the same with cleaning the seed. As children, they cleaned each seed by hand because the company couldn’t afford a seed cleaner.

“We had a 50-pound bag of dirty seed and a tweezer to pinch the seed out onto white paper,” Stutzman said.

Edminster estimates that no more than 30 or 50 growers have ever tried local natives in their production fields because of the risk of not making money.

“When I was in the field it was all worked by hand with species that were too delicate to be put through the combine. We had to have a group of people going down aisles with scissors or taking seed off with their hands,” Stutzman said.

“It’s very time-consuming, and makes it more expensive and difficult to handle. People want them, but they don’t want to invest that time and effort,” she said.

Stutzman said she’s vacuumed seeds off the ground to save them. Santoyo added that those few seeds were worth $30.

“Most of what we do is as difficult as you can get,” Edminster said.

Stutzman and Santoyo knew that their father worked a lot, but they didn’t realize how hard until they committed to the company.

“It’s constant and doesn’t stop. When you participate in it, you see how hard it is,” Stutzman said. “I worked in the field with my now husband, and harvesting stuff is really difficult. You’re laying it out on tarps and drying it, then pitchforking it into a thrasher and then to the seed cleaner. It’s much more difficult than commercial grasses.”

Although Edminster joked about retiring as soon as he can, his daughters say they don’t see that happening.

Oregon nursery industry reclaims No. 1 spot Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:29:25 -0400 Aliya Hall WILSONVILLE, Ore. — During the recession that began in 2008, one-third of the Oregon’s nursery business was lost, but now in 2017, the industry has come back strong, reclaiming first place among agricultural commodities in the state.

“It was almost a perfect storm of calamity economically,” Jeff Stone, director of Oregon Association of Nurseries, said of the recession. “It hit farm-wide.”

The recession that hit the housing and construction industries by proxy also hurt nurseries, because both are major customers. Homeowners also shied away from making improvements to their yards and gardens.

“I equate it to families who don’t go on vacation, but do a staycation, and say, ‘Man, my yard looks like garbage; I should go to the garden center.’ Well, they were so timid about their future they didn’t do any home improvement,” Stone said.

There had been downturns in the nursery industry before, but none lasted as long or cut as deeply, said Stone.

“The 2008 cycle was particularly dark and damaging,” he said.

The market difficulty combined with the lack of labor at the time made nurseries more cautious.

After 2008, nurseries had to change and adjust their growing time. Before, they could simply plant products and sell them, but during the recession, they “came to a rude awakening,” Stone said.

“When it got past a certain age of a plant that isn’t going to market, what do you with it? You destroy it,” he said. “You have all those years of trying to get a plant to market and then there was no market.”

Nurseries knew the recession wasn’t going to last forever, but the concern was if the companies could handle how long it would last.

“The ones that survived continued planting. Bigger nurseries weathered it out, medium (nurseries) had tougher times, but the smaller ones had true difficulty,” Stone said.

Recovery was initially slow, but the industry has since grown significantly. In terms of sales, nurseries have generated $950 million to $975 million; the peak in past years was over $1 billion.

However, fewer nurseries have generated that revenue, Stone said.

Nurseries have also changed how they manage production to look for more efficiencies. During the recession, they focused on making production more lean. Stone said that the biggest step to save labor cost was to switch to automation.

“Automation is an alternative for folks, but that still costs money and significant investment,” Stone said.

The ordering process has changed as well, said Stone. Customers are putting orders in to ship sooner than they had previously.

“The degree of dependence on planting a long time ago for sale next year has probably shortened,” Stone said.

Stone enjoys an informal competition with Oregon’s beef industry, which has traded the top sales spot with the nursery industry over the years.

“It’s the greatest arms race between aggies that you can have. I’d rather have us trade off by a growing market share,” he said. “We have great collaboration and relationship with cattle, wine and crop farms.”

After sitting at the No. 2 position, the nursery industry reclaimed its first-place position this month.

“The sales figures reflect how the nursery and greenhouse industry recovered from the great recession,” Stone said in an email. “The quality of plant material grown and sold by Oregon growers is well known and (I) hope that this signals continued success of our traded sector industry.”

As for the competition with the beef business, Stone called the cattle industry “vibrant and a force in Oregon agriculture.”

“I hope that we continue to grow together for the benefit of all of Oregon agriculture,” Stone said.

Bamboo a life-long fascination Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:26:40 -0400 Aliya Hall ALBANY, Ore. — From a young age, Dain Sansome was interested in bamboo.

The owner of Bamboo Valley in Albany, Ore., Sansome fell in love with Asian themes, such as martial arts, Japanese gardens and bamboo, after seeing a National Geographic special about bamboo. During high school in Minnesota, he started growing his first plants that he bought mail-order from a catalog.

“They did OK, but they didn’t grow like I wanted them to,” he said. “So I went to Japan and saw the big stuff.”

Sansome later moved to Oregon with his Japanese wife and began working at Bamboo Gardens in North Plains, Ore., where he was trained. In 2004, he opened Bamboo Valley, which is both a farm and nursery.

“I always wanted a farm more than a nursery. A nursery in my mind means small plants, which is fun and nice, but I like the ‘big’ stuff,” he said. “That feeling of actual mature bamboo, it’s really magical. It’s all one organism and you can get inside of it, which is a neat feeling.”

Beyond selling bamboo, Sansome also offers landscaping and stump-grinding services.

“There’s a demand for delivering plants, planting and removing. I wanted to get my hands into everything,” he said.

Sansome said bamboo is often purchased for privacy screens.

“It’s used for landscaping and beautification. It has a lightness and airiness about it that evergreens do not. Bamboo is very different, it has an exotic feel, an airy quality of leaves that rustle in the wind; people like having that option,” he said.

Despite popular misconceptions, bamboo is not a tree, but rather a grass.

Sansome said there are several misconceptions regarding bamboo, such as there’s no maintenance, all of it comes out of China and that there’s only one type of bamboo.

“There is a lot of variation in bamboo. All are different, even within a genus. There are differences in cane color, shoot appearance and leaves. It’s really fascinating,” he said.

Bamboo Valley grows 20 varieties, but the overarching categories are running and clumping bamboo. Sansome said the grasses are mainly “old favorites” with a few newer varieties.

Running bamboo varieties are popular for landscaping because of their rapid horizontal growth, which is useful for creating privacy screens. They can “run” from a few feet to 10 or 20 feet depending on the soil, which makes maintenance important because bamboo “wants to become a forest,” Sansome said.

Clumping bamboo, however, only spreads horizontally for a short distance before shooting upward. It is usually less than 15 feet tall, but some varieties can grow to nearly 20 feet tall.

Harvesting the bamboo is the most challenging aspect for Sansome because of how thick the rhizome runners are underneath the ground.

“They can be as thick as your thumb; cutting them is hard. I’ve tried everything from axes and shovels, we’ve graduated into hydraulic equipment now,” he said.

With the difficulties in harvesting the bamboo, keeping enough in stock is also challenging. Most of Bamboo Valley’s customers are retail, and it’s important for customers to see the product, grab it and go, Sansome said.

Sansome loves having the opportunity to meet and connect with new people through the nursery, landscaping and stump-grinding, but nothing beats being outside in the sun.

“I spend the vast majority outside in the sunlight; I love that,” he said. “Being able to have a family and piece of land that essentially is a giant garden.”

Peoria Gardens pursues sustainability Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:33:08 -0400 Aliya Hall Junction City, Ore. — Peoria Gardens takes pride in being sustainable, whether it involves the environment or employees.

Having taken over the business from his father four years ago, Ben Verhoeven, president and general manager of Peoria Gardens, is passionate about social issues. He also hopes to continue the legacy of sustainability his father pursued since founding the business in 1983.

“Dad always treated employees with respect and with benefits. Some of the employees have been around for 20 to 30 years. They are good people, fun and hardworking. I feel strongly about their benefits,” he said.

Peoria Gardens offers 12 weeks of paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers, overtime pay, paid vacation, sick leave and health and dental insurance.

“It’s the right thing to do. It’s not that much money. It isn’t free, but it has a much bigger, more positive effect. I wish more people would do that,” said Verhoeven. “It feels good and it’s worth it. It helps people out.”

The nursery is also environmentally sustainable, selling annuals, perennials and vegetable starts.

“The veggie starts market has grown as more people are growing their own food. There’s been an increase in our certified organic, and we want to expand that production,” Verhoeven said.

The biggest challenge in maintaining sustainability is pest control. Environmentally friendly insecticides are not always easy to use, he said.

Verhoeven also said that the nursery industry uses a lot of electricity as a whole, and he’s trying to minimize that. Peoria Gardens has solar panels on two-thirds of its buildings and has already reduced its energy use by 30 percent.

“No one likes paying utility bills. This is better for the bottom line and the long term,” he said.

However, Verhoeven said there’s always more to do.

The nursery finished up its harvest season despite the “awful” spring that was early and wet, he said.

“Agriculture is a different beast, there are complicated factors involved; we’re at the whim of mother nature,” he said. “But we came out of it.”

Other nurseries have followed Peoria Gardens’ sustainable example. Although there is a bad connotation with the word “sustainable” within certain groups, the Oregon Association of Nurseries is using the term to showcase efficiency.

California and Washington already have similar benefits programs in place for their employees. Verhoeven said he would have loved to see Oregon be the first, but now that they are following suit other producers can see that the businesses haven’t suffered or cost them as much as they initially thought.

“I like being sustainable, environmentally and socially. I’m a new father myself, and anyone you know is either a parent or has been really sick before. These life events happen to everyone. We, as the agricultural industry, need to agree to help our neighbors out because they’ll help us out,” Verhoeven said.

Gray’s Garden Centers make a comeback Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:32:26 -0400 Aliya Hall EUGENE, Ore. — A staple of the Eugene and Springfield, Ore., area since 1940, Gray’s Garden Centers are often simply referred by community members as: Gray’s. The retail nurseries are considered an institution among area gardeners and landscapers.

That’s why, after the centers closed in 2013 in the wake of the recession, the Eugene location was shuttered for less than two months before former owner Scott Bocci bought back the assets and reopened. The Springfield location reopened after about a year.

The recession hit the nursery industry particularly hard since it is closely tied to the housing and construction industries. As construction ebbed, so did the landscaping business.

Bocci also hired back veteran staff members, and general manager Stuart Leaton was among them.

Leaton got his start at Gray’s 12 years ago, and worked in the tree and shrub department before taking over the buying.

“To many hearing about the closure, of course there was sadness related to that, but a lot jubilation to know it was going to be reopened by some staff who had been here formerly,” he said. “It was kind of rounding up the troops and bringing them back in.”

Leaton said it was these “highly skilled individuals” who helped get Gray’s back to its former level. They wanted to recover as fast as possible, and now they are in a period where they expect to grow, he said.

Gray’s is one of the biggest nurseries in the area, allowing for a large selection of plants and products that are used to keep plants growing and healthy, as well as garden tools and decorations.

“Landscapers who traditionally don’t pay full retail price on products will end up at Gray’s locally because we do have so many products to help take care of plants, and bright-colored annuals and perennials,” Leaton said.

Some of the newer product lines grow multiple re-blooms in one season: hydrangeas on old and new wood, azaleas in spring and fall, lilacs that bloom three times a year and blueberry bushes that produce two crops in one season.

Leaton estimates that Gray’s has 125 vendors, almost all of which are in Oregon.

One of the new developments since the reopening is the nurseries’ partnerships with other businesses in the area.

The Springfield center has partnered with McKenzie Feed and Pet Supply and the Eugene center has partnered with the Beergarden.

“Both of these give you a chance to have customers and clientele that you’re not spending advertising on,” he said.

“Both of us play off each other; they’re happy to have Gray’s because Gray’s draws a multitude of people, and we feel we’ve matched ourselves well to draw customers and clientele from other places. It’s a unique dynamic.”

Farwest Show promises the extraordinary Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:30:54 -0400 Aliya Hall PORTLAND — The 2017 Farwest Show will be far from ordinary as it enters its 45th year.

In fact, this year’s theme is “Be Far From Ordinary.”

The show will be Aug. 23-25 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

“We have strong educational components and we want to utilize that,” said Allan Niemi, director of events at the Oregon Association of Nurseries. “We evolved to show more things that people can achieve and gain by taking part in a Farwest Show.”

Past registration has averaged more than 6,000 buyers and has grown 6 to 10 percent during each of the past two years, Niemi said. It has seen “really strong registration” this year as well, along with more than 400 exhibitors.

The opening-day keynote address, “Connections: Cultivating Your Company and Your Professional Life,” will be presented by Terri McEnaney, president of Bailey Nurseries.

Farwest will also feature three showcases: Growing Trends, New Varieties and New Products.

The theme for this year’s Growing Trends is “Urban Lifestyle Gardening,” which aims to “home in on popular consumer trends and how they can be created in landscaping and at your garden center,” according to the Farwest website.

Forty-two new plant varieties and nine new products will also be showcased. Plant varieties are divided into the four categories: tree, shrub, perennials and grasses. Show participants and a panel of judges will vote for the best new varieties and new products, Niemi said.

The show will also feature three nursery country tours with the themes “Out West,” “Coniferific” and “Secret Garden” that will explore nursery country, conifer production and retail garden centers in Portland.

Thirty-one speakers will offer seminars on a range of topics, from “Soil Erosion Solutions” to “Are you Digitally Relevant?”

Six seminars will have Spanish translations, and two will be given only in Spanish.

Two additional mini-sessions, “Grower Solution Center” and “Retailer Idea Center,” are also available, as are pesticide applicator classes.

The Farwest Show also includes networking events such as the “Emergent Networking: A Group for Growing Professionals” and “Women in Horticulture.”

Participants will also have the opportunity to “Walk the Show Floor with Experts,” which include “Trend Spotting” with Brie Arthur and “Plant Spotting” with Sean Hogan.

A new addition to the Farwest show will be “Happy Hour,” a celebration that will conclude the first day of the event.

“We are trying to emphasize the social aspect of this,” Niemi said. “When you get 6,000 people together, yes, business is made on the show floor, but it’s amazing how much more can be accomplished and strengthened within the social aspects that we can provide as well.”

This will also be the sixth year of the Farwest’s pub crawl, which will be on day two. The first stop: the Doug Fir Lounge.

“We want people to experience the essence of Portland. Our beer scene, wine and pub scene,” Niemi said. “It’s such a strong element of our identity here in Portland, and we brought that into play.”

Niemi said that the pub crawl has grown so much that they’ve had “a couple hundred” people join in.

“It’s a fun thing. It makes us unique. People appreciate it and get excited about it as they’re making their trek to Oregon,” Niemi said. “I’m excited for that element, for the new things that we’re adding in that enhance the Farwest experience.”

Nursery grows from interest in palms Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:27:48 -0400 Aliya Hall WOODBURN, Ore.— Jim Parsons said he is asked all the time how he got into the palm tree business.

“When I first started showing at farmers’ markets, people who didn’t understand that palms could grow here looked at me like I was crazy,” he said. “Now I have people calling me, especially in the warmer months. So, it seems to be going more mainstream.”

Parsons, who is the health teacher at Woodburn Middle School, calls his family-owned business, Oregon Palm Nursery, a good “side-hustle.”

“I lived overseas and my first couple of teaching jobs were in tropical places. The first one was Guam and the second was Honduras. I learned to love palm trees and tropical plants,” he said. “They’re just so beautiful and majestic, and they’re an icon by themselves. Someone who doesn’t like them, I just don’t understand. They evoke a relaxed feeling for me, a peaceful relaxation when I see them.”

When he moved back to Oregon in 1999, Parsons saw a Chinese Windmill Palm in a Portland nursery with a tag saying it was hardy to low temperatures, and that sparked his research into growing palm trees.

“I looked up some other information about cold palms and thought, Wow, that’s amazing,” he said.

Parsons bought his first seeds online from outside the country, because there weren’t many palm seed producers in the U.S. at that time.

“I read how to germinate and grow them, and got a pretty good success rate. But I think I bought more than I needed; I had way too many and thought, What am I going to do with these?” He said.

Parsons began contacting local nurseries, but they had little interest. That was when he decided he needed a bigger property.

“I brought my plants with me and ramped it up more. People now call me and make appointments. We don’t have regular business hours because I still teach. I’m on vacation right now, which works out pretty good because spring and summer are my best selling months,” Parsons said.

About 90 percent of its inventory is cold-hardy exotics, plants that can withstand a wet and cooler climate. The nursery’s most common palms are Chinese Windmill and Waggie. However, it also sells Mediterranean and other rare palms, along with succulents, cacti and bamboo.

The biggest challenge Parsons has is producing the palms, especially the Waggie palm.

“The Chinese Windmill will grow one foot of trunk on average a year, but the Waggie grows six inches, if lucky, a year. The first five years are painfully slow,” he said.

The nursery is getting more customers from Northeast Portland because homeowners there have bigger lots and gardens, and have been fixing them up this year, he said. Parsons also sells to hotels and restaurants with Cuban, Mexican or Asian themes that want to make their business more attractive and inviting.

“We’re trying to focus more on the private homeowner, and working with the general public. Just meeting new people and helping them beautify their landscape and make their home beautiful. Just that personal touch with homeowners is rewarding, I think.” Parsons said.

“We deliver it and see where it’s going to be planted, and then I’ll drive by later and see that, like, Oh, I sold that palm tree. I remember those people. That’s the most rewarding thing, having that relationship with the homeowner.”

Childhood business becomes successful life’s passion Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:24:09 -0400 Sheryl Harris Not everybody begins his career at age 10, but Dan Pearson did — with a detour for a college degree and eight years working as a landscape architect.

Meanwhile, he worked to build what his mother had named Dan’s Dahlias back when he was that 10-year-old.

“My goal was to grow the business to where it made more than my day job. College was valuable, but I earn more doing this,” he says, gesturing to his small dahlia farm.

It started when his father brought home 30 different dahlias, and young Dan promptly memorized the names. The next year there were 30 more. People stopped by, asking about the flowers, and Dan cut and sold them for $1 a bunch. Today they are $1 a stem.

Now, Dan’s Dahlias is the largest dahlia grower in Washington state.

“I’ve always had a passion for growing things,” says Pearson. “I loved the animals on my parents’ dairy farm, but I preferred growing things.”

Pearson sold the family’s farm in 1995, purchased his current 12 acres and added 5 more acres. He grows 500 dahlia varieties, companion plantings — sunflowers, asters, zinnias, statice and hypericum berries — and first-season raspberry vines for greenery in bouquets. Each year he discontinues 50 varieties and begins 50 new ones from an estimated 18,000 to 20,000 varieties.

Dan’s Dahlias is mostly a one-man operation, but Pearson has seasonal employees to plant, weed and dig up and divide the tubers. He and his brother do the cut flowers in the fall.

Pearson is a founding member of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market Cooperative. The co-op provides flowers to florists and event planners nearly year-round.

“As a group, the co-op can give grocery stores a steady supply of flowers for eight months, so they will work with us,” he said. “Florists and event planners get fresher produce for less, and we get more than through typical wholesalers; we’ve doubled the proceeds from cut flower sales.”

He also sells tubers.

“I can sell tubers 10 months of the year,” he said. “About half my sales are online.”

What are Pearson’s plans? “I’m always searching for varieties with stronger stems, more blooms, and that produce more tubers.”

Nursery specializes in fruit, nut rootstock Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:22:39 -0400 Aliya Hall WOODBURN, Ore. — Brent Smith is the third-generation of Smiths to operate Treco Inc.

He has worked there since third grade, and finds it rewarding to see how the business has changed.

“It’s just being able to keep it successful. We’ve gone through our hard times, too, like everyone else, and have learned from it, but every year there’s some new challenge. We want to stay on the leading edge of things,” Smith said.

Treco was founded in 1941 by Smith’s grandparents, and initially they produced both 2-year-old fruit trees and rootstock. However, in 2000 Treco focused production strictly on rootstock because it was competing against its customers for orchard tree sales.

Treco is known for its apple rootstock, but has also started to grow hazelnut rootstock, as well as some pear rootstock.

“We have 75 years of experience growing it, and you can’t beat this climate. There are other nurseries, but with our soil type and the amount of rain we get, it’s ideal,” Smith said. “We’re very hands-on. Quality is a major thing, customers will buy our B-grade stock knowing it’s as good as others’ A-grade. It keeps commercial growers coming back.”

Treco’s production is known as layering. They plant starter material in the spring and let it grow for a full winter cycle to defoliate. That following spring they will lay the material on the ground and let it send shoots off, which they cover with sawdust to help root.

That following winter, when the plant goes dormant again, they cut off the mother plant’s rootstock and sell it.

“Rootstock controls the tree,” Smith said. “There’s very dwarfing rootstock that goes to garden centers for someone who is going to put a pot on their patio with a little fruit tree, and then there’s the other side of the pendulum that is as close to standard trees as you can get.”

Rootstock also determines how trees will grow in different soil and climate types.

“We have some from Russia and Poland that are really winter hardy. Then there’s rootstock that has some disease resistance. We get a lot of that from Cornell University’s Geneva Program,” Smith said.

There’s a lot more difference in apple rootstock than people think, according to Smith. His Geneva rootstock comes in crooked with spines that aren’t easily propagated until it’s in the orchard; older rootstocks grow straight with distance between the nodes and some that root better than others.

“They all have their little quirks. There is a ton of difference; no two rootstocks are the same. All have different characteristics,” said Smith.

Treco was able to recover quicker than most nurseries after the 2008 recession, even though it had just gone through a hit from the fruiting industry in 2000. That dip in the market was due to producers’ dependence on one apple — Red Delicious — that was overproduced, according to Smith.

However, the fruit market began recovering before the 2008 recession hit, which allowed Smith to ride it out.

“We saw a dip, but we didn’t see the big recession like the other nurseries did; we recovered a lot quicker. We just hunkered down and waited for it. It helped being on the food side,” he said.

In the future Treco will be focusing on the hazelnut market and finding that next edge to stay ahead.

Nursery finds niche in urban setting Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:21:32 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER SAN FRANCISCO — Nestled between a popular neighborhood bar and crowded restaurant is Sloat Garden Center, a plant “boutique” in San Francisco’s Marina District.

Andrew Alvarado has been manager for three years and caters to different customers’ needs.

“We’re part of the neighborhood and our plant selection reflects that,” he said. “Every customer has unique needs but the most common question has to be: ‘What do you have that’s impossible to kill?’ I try to reassure people that even the hardiest plants take a little know-how but that we’re always available for advice, knowledge and guidance.”

Sloat Gardens has three locations in San Francisco and several others in Marin County and the East Bay. Each has a different clientele. Some have customers with large expanses of lawn and gardens while the Marina location has customers with window boxes. Most of the plants are locally grown by wholesale nurseries in the Bay Area.

“We know the story behind every 2-inch succulent and 15-gallon Japanese maple that enters our doors,” he said. “All the plants are geared to San Francisco weather.”

The outside area is a dazzling array of colorful flowering plants and herbs. In addition to growing plants, Sloat’s sells high-quality garden tools, soils, planters and offers garden design and delivery. From planting and pruning to weeding, the nursery offers customers a monthly garden to-do list.

“It’s not just San Francisco weather in general but the particular and unique microclimate that is the marina,” he said. “Most of our customers live down the street from us so we have to think of their yards when selecting our plants.”

Alvarado answers questions daily about which plants are the most popular and which are the hardest to grow.

Right now, the ficus lyrata is most popular. It’s featured in all the design and lifestyle blogs and is in high demand, he said.

“Thankfully, they’re not too difficult to take care of,” he said.

As far as the most difficult plant to grow, “in my experience, maidenhair ferns are probably the toughest,” he said. “Demanding in light, water and humidity, they don’t forgive you if it isn’t just right.”

He says many challenges face the nursery industry, but one stands out.

“In my opinion, the biggest challenge facing the California nursery industry is effectively educating the public,” he said. “We may be officially out of the drought but we still need to keep water-wise practices and drought-tolerant plants at the forefront of everyone’s minds. We have to be proactive instead of reactive; you never know when the next drought may occur.”

Alvarado said he can answer most customers’ questions, but one day he was stumped.

“One time I had a customer come in wondering why her ming aralia (a tall fern) was smelling like maple syrup,” he said. “I couldn’t figure out why initially, but we later got one in the shop and soon enough it started smelling like maple syrup, too. I figured out we had been overwatering it and when the roots rot they emit that smell.”

Nursery grows from tiny acorns Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:20:23 -0400 Dianna Troyer POCATELLO, Idaho — Envisioning a stunning oak tree in his yard, Dave Luker stopped by a greenhouse in Pocatello decades ago and was told oak trees cannot grow in southeastern Idaho.

“I grew up in Filer, and oak trees are everywhere because settlers from Missouri planted them,” Luker says.

That incident in 1983 compelled Luker to develop oak hybrids at his home nursery.

Working as a landscaper at a local hospital and later at nurseries, he planted oak trees throughout Pocatello that are thriving today.

After wild turkeys were introduced to the region, he partnered with conservationists to plant oak trees for the birds.

Since opening his business, WestWood Growers Conservation Nursery, Luker, 57, has become the only wholesale or retail nursery in Idaho offering more than 60 varieties of oak trees. He sells about 5,000 a year.

He is not only an expert at growing oak trees, but other deciduous hardwoods.

“I did a mission for my church in Ohio and saw an amazing variety of trees. Other hardwoods that do well here are buckeye, beech, yellowwood, red-flowering chestnut and Turkish hazel.

To stimulate seedling growth, Luker plants acorns and other trees in reusable plastic containers with perforated holes that encourage lateral root growth.

He also uses mycorrhizal fungi in a liquid to stimulate nutrient absorption in a tree.

“To plant a tree, ideally you should colonize the planting site with wood chips for up to a year. You can put down cardboard and pour a free 25-gallon pot of chips on it that we have here. When you plant a tree in a well prepared site like that, it will really take off.”

Besides providing oak trees of all sizes to landscape companies and consumers, Luker gathers 5 tons of acorns from mid-September to early November to sell to nurseries every year.

“Idaho is the only place in the country without weevil,” he says. “The acorns I pick up in Utah are heated in 120-degree water in a big pot for 30 minutes to kill the weevil without harming the acorn.”

For several years, Luker has partnered with local members of the National Turkey Federation to plant thousands of oak trees.

“Turkeys eat acorns in the fall and the male catkins in spring,” says Luker. “Flocks do well when oak trees are around.”

Many of his trees are also ideal for shelterbelts on ag land.

“Shelterbelts are a worthwhile investment,” he says. “Livestock does better with shade and shelter, and certain crop yields improve with a windbreak. You need at least three rows with a dense shrub, evergreen and hardwood.”

One of the most eye-catching oaks Luker has planted is a cross of a big bur oak and a little live oak, bred by Walter Cottam at the University of Utah. It grows near the former Bannock Memorial Hospital.

“Most people think it’s a holly bush because it has leathery leaves that stay green through December,” he says. “It grows as a small shrub without irrigation but can reach 35 feet tall with irrigation. It’s beautiful.”

Luker advocates planting trees that are less common.

“It ultimately increases the diversity of our plant communities and limits the risk of major pest attacks,” he says.

Native plants restore damaged habitat, thrive in urban yards Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:19:09 -0400 Dianna Troyer McCall, Idaho — A hunch to supply the niche market of native plants has paid off for Jim Crawford and Margo Conitz at Buffalo-berry Farm.

“We originally thought we’d set up a greenhouse to grow conifer trees for reforestation but realized it was such a competitive market,” says Crawford. “We chose to pursue the native plant market instead.”

Conitz recalls their first growing season in 1994 on their land in mountainous west-central Idaho south of McCall.

“We had a demand for our crop of local native shrubs for fire restoration near McCall,” she says. “Things built from there.”

Their farm specializes in growing native plants of the Intermountain Northwest including perennial wildflowers, wetland and upland grasses, conifers, trees and shrubs.

While native plants have long been used for restoration projects, they are becoming increasingly popular with consumers wanting beautiful, drought-tolerant plants in their yards. In some areas, thirsty lawns are being replaced with low-maintenance native perennials.

“We’re seeing increasing demand for native plants from retail consumers living in low, dry areas,” says Crawford. “Several cities in Utah require residents to grow native plants for landscaping to conserve water.”

To keep up with demand, Crawford and Conitz tend to plants in their 4,000-square-foot climate- controlled greenhouse and a 10,000-square-foot fenced area for large containers. To help them, they hire three or four seasonal, part-time employees during the spring planting season and during the fall packing season.

“Our plants are used for habitat improvement, mining reclamation, erosion control projects and campground improvement,” says Crawford. “We’re also a source to landscapers and other nurseries for native plants.”  

They strive to match seed sources, elevations and soil types to produce plants best adapted to certain sites. 

To help their plants absorb nutrients, “we inoculate seedlings with species appropriate mycorrhizal fungi,” says Conitz. “The plants carry that association into the field, giving them an advantage when planted in harsh sites.”

As they gather seed in the fall, they find one of their favorite shrubs, the Russet Buffalo-berry and namesake for their business.

“It’s an interesting shrub because of its unique growing places,” says Crawford. Native Americans used it for medicinal purposes and whipped the berries with water to make a frothy dessert.

As they look over the plants in their greenhouse, Conitz says, “It’s gratifying to know our plants are being used for many purposes, especially helping to restore wild areas.”

Crawford says, “We enjoy working with our agency friends on their projects and showing individuals and groups the process of growing plants started from native seed.”

DeGoede Bulb Farm and Garden in third generation Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:18:04 -0400 Sheryl Harris Mossyrock, Wash. — Travelers along Washington’s scenic Highway 12 are bound to notice the colorful fields of tulips, iris and perennials that is DeGoede Bulb Farm and Garden.

Henry and Hildegarde DeGoede started the operation in 1951 in the Skagit Valley of Washington state. Needing more property, they purchased land outside Mossyrock, and around 1976, they moved the family and business to its present location nearby.

Today, sons Jack and Bob and grandson Alex are at the helm. Jack and Alex manage field production, Bob handles the garden center and container plants, and Alex manages cut tulips and the Dutch irises.

While bulbs have been a mainstay, Jack DeGoede says they are adding more perennials. This is because the bulb market has been decreasing and labor costs and competition from Europe have been increasing.

“We have about 100 year-round employees in all divisions,” Alex says. “It might vary by 10 or 12 seasonally, but that’s all.”

Jack explains, “Our work is steady so it allows us to keep good people. Replacing our workers is difficult since we can’t use temp or seasonal workers, so we’re always looking for ways to streamline our work.”

He describes a recent equipment advance that fills containers.

“It took two people to do it; now it takes one,” he says. Since it is much faster, actual savings may be four or five employees over the year. Jack says another way to save is growing plants in beds, not rows as they get more plants per acre and it helps grow them to size without dividing them.

About 250 of their 300 acres are in production. About 95 percent of DeGoede’s product goes to U.S. buyers. Container production goes to an area between Bellingham, Wash., and Eugene, Ore., west to the Olympic Peninsula, and east to the Yakima Valley.

About 80 percent of the field production goes east of the Rocky Mountains.

Before leaving DeGoede’s, visitors enjoy the peace of the Farm Chapel and Prayer Trail. Henry and Hildegarde DeGoede built them to give thanks and glory to God for the blessings they had received in their lives, marriage, and a business to pass to future generations.

Nursery still blossoms 108 years after opening Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:16:25 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER San Rafael, Calif. — Chris Untermann, manager of West End Nursery, says his green thumb is in his genes.

“Leaving Germany in search of the American dream, my great-great uncle and horticulturist Richard Lohrmann bought some land in San Rafael, California, in 1909,” Untermann said. “There, he opened a small neighborhood nursery serving the community where he lived and worked.”

Lohrmann sold the operation to his nephew, Karl Untermann in the 1960s. Chris Untermann is the fourth generation to operate the nursery.

Chris Untermann worked at the nursery through his high school and college years on weekends and whenever he was available. He started full-time 20 years ago, after he graduated from the University of California-Davis with a degree in agriculture economics.

The sprawling operation boasts 2 acres of plant material purchased from wholesalers around California and Oregon.

All plants are geared to Northern California’s climate.

“Japanese maples are our most popular and expensive plants that we sell,” he said. The prices range from $50 for a small tree to around $600 for ones over 15 feet.

But West End Nursery is about more than sales.

“In addition to sales, we spend a lot of time identifying plants for people,” Untermann said. “Customers bring in leaves or send pictures and we tell them what it is. We also help customers with problems they are having in their garden.”

The busiest time of the year is March to June, but the nursery’s Christmas House is also popular. The seasonal treat began in 1985 to create a niche market for well-priced, unique ornaments and decorations.

Over the last 30 years, it has grown to include more than 60 glittering trees, becoming a holiday tradition in the community.

Untermann said there has always been an interest in drought-resistant plants, and that demand has accelerated. A high percentage of the nursery’s plants are drought-tolerant. Highly efficient drought-tolerant plants also come from places like Australia, where they have more water problems than California.

Changes have been ongoing but one thing remains constant: Every customer wants instant visual satisfaction, he said. Plants need to be in full color and good size to start — no more waiting for things to grow.

There are also challenges the founder in 1909 did not experience.

“On the upside, it is hard to ship a plant, so nurseries are fortunate to not have to try and compete against Amazon,” he said. “However, the big box stores are always a threat to independent nurseries, but as long as we can provide quality plants and quality service that is hard to find in other places, I think the nursery business should be fine.”

The only other fear is a major drought, he said, “though this last one was surprisingly not bad for business, as customers replaced lawns, but a five-plus-year drought could be disastrous.”