Jonathan Babikow recently joined Emerald Coast Growers as general manager/head grower for its Lancaster, PA, location.
Babikow, a cousin to Emerald Coast Growers’ current owners, grew up in the family business, starting as a teenager in his father’s greenhouse, GreenLeaf Enterprises. By his 20s, he was a range manager supervising up to 20 people at different locations. By his 30s, he was an owner and the vice president of vegetative production of perennials, overseeing all propagation of unrooted cuttings.
After Yoder Brothers purchased the business in 1996, Babikow continued in the same role for five years, before eventually moving to Esbenshades Greenhouses to launch its perennial program. After 11 years there, he decided it was time to come back into a Babikow family business.“It’s the opportunity to make a real difference and work with the family,” Babikow says. “My hope is that with my production management background, we can look at new products and new opportunities to complement their current offering.”
Greenhouse Grower® recently asked Babikow about growing perennials in his region, and the hottest new varieties on the horizon.
Greenhouse Grower (GG): How did your previous experience prepare you for this new role?
Jonathan Babikow: Being part of and witnessing the evolution of the growing of perennials, beginning in the 1980s when perennials made their way into the mainstream consciousness. My understanding how to manipulate and schedule has greatly improved, but is still developing. Having been both a young plant and a finished grower gives me the benefit of understanding and anticipating what is expected.
GG: Looking ahead, what role can you play in moving this industry forward?
Babikow: By cultivating interest and mentoring the next generation of growers.
GG: What is your favorite perennial crop to grow?
Babikow: I especially like Heuchera cultivars for their season-long performance and Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ for the same reason. However, the single most impressive cultivar that I have grown in recent seasons is Salvia nemorosa ‘April Night’ (Danziger), recently added to Emerald Coast Growers offerings. Its repeat blooming trait is unparalleled as far as I know. It can be scheduled throughout the season because it will continue to produce color from young plants that are trimmed prior to planting. I have grown them in late summer with retail-ready color in September.
GG: What are the challenges/ benefits of growing perennials in the southeast Pennsylvania climate?
Babikow: This region probably has the heaviest concentration of perennial young plant growers in the country. We have access to a good reliable labor market and are adjacent to a significant number of Mid-Atlantic finished growers. Property values can restrain affordability of facility expansion, and the weather does present some challenges in the summer when it is hot and humid, but that would apply to a lot of areas. Fortunately, we do have a long growing season and optimum conditions in other times of the year, especially in late summer and fall, for propagating to build inventory for vernalization in preparation for spring.
GG: What are some growing techniques that you’re bringing to the bench at Emerald Coast?
Babikow: Because extending the season is of great value to growers, I have been particularly interested in crops and new innovations that enhance the ability to offer product for finishing outside the limitations of their traditional sales season. As I mentioned above, Salvia ‘April Night’ can be scheduled to produce color almost anytime during the growing season. Other genera respond to manipulation of daylength/nightlength. Echinacea as an example is an intermediate short day/long day plant that can be scheduled using short day treatment to bloom late summer/fall. At Emerald Coast Growers, we now offer short day-treated Cheyenne Spirit and Pow Wow Wildberry liners that as finished plants will bloom late season as companions to traditional fall crops. We accomplish this by daily covering the crop with blackout cloth after receiving 10 to 11 hours of sunlight. Because a well-branched liner will result in a fuller finished product, especially important with a same-season schedule, we treat the young plants with a branching enhancement agent. In addition to Echinacea, short day combined with branching enhancement treatments provide a reliable way to supply other valuable cultivars in color for the late-season market.
GG: If you weren’t in this profession, what would you be doing?
Babikow: Something entrepreneurial in the arts and music fields or culinary.