Hanging baskets make up a good portion of the greenhouse business for peak spring, so it’s vital to have a strong growing program for these products. According to recent USDA statistics, sales of certain types of hanging baskets are up across the 15 states that produce the most floriculture product. The varieties that increased in sales in 2015 over 2014 include begonias, New Guinea impatiens and a category called “other flowering and foliar,” which is good news for including unique varieties rather than petunias and geraniums.
Quality From the Beginning
There are a couple of keys to a successful hanging basket program, and it all begins with a healthy start and the media mix. That means inspecting plugs and cuttings prior to planting up the mixes. Media can be pre-mixed or mixed onsite by the grower, but it’s important to have the right ingredients. Bobby Barnitz, vice president at Bob’s Market & Greenhouses in Mason, W. Va., mixes his own onsite and uses 70% peat, 20% perlite and 10% rice hulls. He also does something very few, if any, other growers do: he adds expanded STOCKOSORB® advanced hydrogels to his mix using a specialized dispenser engineered by Bouldin & Lawson to work with his B&L media mixer.
“When we put it into the soil, adding volume to the soil, it becomes cost neutral,” Barnitz explains. “You’re replacing soil volume with expanded hydrogel.”
He’s actually been doing it that way with hydrogels for nearly 20 years, and prior to the Bouldin & Lawson machine, he was using the mixing drums from cement mixers to incorporate the expanded hydrogel into the media mix. He expands the advanced hydrogel with reverse osmosis purified water to ensure full expansion.
While Barnitz is a large grower supplying plants to Bob’s Market retail stores and other operations, smaller growers also use STOCKOSORB® in their blended media, like Bessie Newbery at Gracias’ Greenhouse in Belleville, MI.
“We add STOCKOSORB® and Osmocote to every basket to try and make them easy for the customer to care for,” Newbery notes. She recalls a time where they had a new water system set up and forgot to turn on the lever for the water. She discovered the error 10 days later. “STOCKOSORB® became a lifesaver of my 500 baskets,” she says. “If I did not put the STOCKOSORB® in the baskets I would have lost them all. Instead, I don’t think I lost any of them.”
A Keen Eye
Along with the proper media mix and advanced hydrogels, nutrition and disease scouting are essential. Barnitz adds that using the STOCKOSORB® has also reduced the amount of fertilizer they use because it gets absorbed into the expanded hydrogel and is released slowly to the plant. For example, without STOCKOSORB® they would feed five out of seven days, but with the advanced hydrogel they water every other day and use fertilizer three out of four of those watering days. “You start saving a lot of money quickly,” he notes.
Hanging baskets by their nature are typically hung over benches of growing plants, or plants growing on the floor of the greenhouse. In a paper on hanging basket problems, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Researcher Brian Krug pointed out growers are less likely to pull down hanging baskets to scout for pests and diseases. “Scouting can be difficult with baskets due to their position relative to our eye level, especially in taller houses,” he writes. “Giving our crops a good once over while we are watering or just walking down benches is second nature. But when was the last time you systematically scouted your crop in baskets?”
Krug also notes that spacing becomes vital during the growing season. In the beginning, baskets can be spaced tighter, but once they start growing out the sides, growers should be aware of that spread and how much they are reducing light to lower crops. Finding the right spacing is crucial to having a quality hanging basket product, as well as for growing the crops below.
Growing quality hanging baskets is a continual effort of observing and adjusting as needed, but these keys will help produce beautiful blooming baskets end consumers will love.
Make your water go farther while improving the health of your plants. To find out more about how STOCKOSORB® advanced hydrogel can help your growing operation, contact Lynn Royal at 336-335-3781, email [email protected] or visit www.STOCKOSORB.com.