Avoiding Rookie Mistakes With PGRs

Avoiding Rookie Mistakes With PGRs

Put the decimal point in the right place. It’s a simple lesson in plant growth regulator (PGR) notation, yes, but it’s a lesson many growers have learned the hard way over the years. Count Amy Morris, the head grower at Millstadt Greenhouse, among them.

“Every grower moves the decimal point at some point,” Morris says. “Instead of putting a 1 down you put a 10. I laugh about it, because it happens. I don’t know a grower who hasn’t done it once. You’re in a hurry and you know better, but it still happens.”

Fortunately, some PGR mishaps are correctable. In Morris’ case, applying 10 times the amount of Bonzi wasn’t the end of the world. Certain chemicals, she’s found, can help prevent simple mistakes from wiping out a crop.

“I have growers who beat themselves up about it,” Morris says. “But did you learn something? As long as you learn from it and don’t do it again, it’s OK.”

Even if a mistake isn’t correctable, the key is learning from it. All growers will make mistakes–some may be mistakes to which you can look back and laugh–but taking those experiences and pocketing them for the next time is what puts a grower on the path toward perfection.

Trial & Error

One way growers are increasingly avoiding mistakes is with their own trials. Before setting up your own trials, the best place to start is, of course, with PGR manufacturers and the breeders.

“I have a lot of contact with PGR tech reps to get their information,” says Sam Drahn, director of research at Bailey Nurseries.

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“[Last] year, for example, we were growing peonies and we wanted to see how they responded to different PGRs. So I sent some feelers out to the folks at OHP, (horticultural consultant) Paul Pilon and (Syngenta’s) Nancy Rechcigl. These people have different experiences with the crops, so connecting with them keeps us from shooting at a dartboard.”

Based on information PGR experts provide, plus a grower’s own experience with a crop, a plan can usually be formulated. But PGRs react differently as conditions like time of day and temperature change. So the learning never really stops.

“I’m a grower who thinks it’s important for my growers to trial everything and anything,” Morris says. “Trialing is the best teaching lesson for a grower. When I started in the industry, our head grower was the same way. If you don’t understand how a product works, compare it to other items. You come up with a conclusion and can then make a decision.”

Suggestions For Small Growers

All growers don’t have the space to perform full-fledged PGR trials, though. Many times, in fact, the space big operations devote to PGR trials is equal to a small operation’s entire production area. Growers at big operations do, however, have suggestions for smaller operations.

“I would go with the strategy of less is probably better,” Drahn says. “Overdose is an extremely hard thing to turn around. Certain products tend to get expensive, and if you’re going to start playing around with things, I would rather err on the side of caution and be more conservative so you can make corrections.”

Adds Larry Morgan, head grower at South Central Growers: “Smaller growers may want to apply PGRs with sprays. For us, we want to apply a PGR once and be done with it.”

Another suggestion is to take advantage of PGR trials, like the one Millstadt Greenhouse conducts on poinsettias each November and opens to fellow growers.

“We compare Bonzi versus Sumagic versus Cycocel versus B-9,” Morris says. “We have Florel and Augeo. We compare using Fascination and not using it; using Florel and not using it. We’re open for two days, and we share all the rates we used. We had 500 pots in the PGR trial this year. Anyone can come up and look.”

The trial is also helpful to brokers, Morris says, because they can sell in part based on how particular PGRs function. Additionally, if you don’t have access to a PGR trial near you, Morris suggests building a grower network in which tips can be shared. Our FreshAirForum.com is yet another place to turn.

“I get together with three growers once or twice a year,” Morris says. “You try to help them along. For example, I gave a recommendation we had past experience with. I was having a problem with something and someone said, ‘Drench those with Fascination and they will break out in a minute’–and they did.

“There are some growers whose lips are sealed about their PGR use, and that’s fine. But this industry is big enough that we should be helping each other out.”

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