Monday, September 28, 2009

Series of posts to come

I have been travelling again. This time to Holland and Ireland, the main reason was to go to the IPPS conference in Kilkenny but the moon was in alignment with Pluto, oh wait I think that is not a planet anymore, sad, one of my favorites! Anyway I digress as usual. On the trip I also got to meet a ton of fabulous people that I have been in contact with only through the Internet so it was so great to meet face to face. In Holland I got to meet with Peter at Plantip whom I have just recently been introduced to through email and in Ireland I got to finally meet Pat FitzGerald whom I have had contact with since the start of the year through email, Twitter and skype. I also met numerous other people at the conference including one of the organizers, Mike Norris of New Place Nurseries. This trip was a plant nerd's ultimate plant fantasy. I will post several pictures so you can see what I mean, well it really was for this Texas gal since we don't grow much of that in these parts.

More to come as I have time, am at my computer with pictures and away from tiny little iPhone keyboard!

-- Post From My iPhone

Sunday, September 6, 2009

IPPS International 2009 Paper!

Well I think I finally finished it, it was hard to limit the page number to only 7!  I am very long winded when I write.  Then I looked at the Proceedings from last year and noticed most people had only 3 pages, so I went and chopped some more down to 5 as to not be a page hog!  I hope that this gives some further insight to what we do here, please feel free to comment. 

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.  Young Plant Production in Magnolia, Texas at Magnolia Gardens Nursery.

April Herring
Magnolia Gardens Nursery Liner Division, 18810 Turtle Creek Lane, Magnolia, Texas 77355


Magnolia Gardens Nursery is a nursery in Magnolia, Texas that specializes in young plant production through the use of tissue culture, in particular that of numerous Nandina domestica cultivars.  Young plant production comes with many rewards but there are many challenges to overcome to reach those rewards.  These challenges include deciding what plants to produce, determining the best production protocol, acclimization and finishing, and finding innovative ways to deal with a slow economy.   One of the biggest rewards is the discovery of a new plant and having the ability to use tissue culture to bring it to market quicker than traditional propagation methods.  Many bridges must be crossed to reach this final step and each must be crossed with high success rates so that the end product is of good quality and ultimately, profitable.


What Plants Should We Produce?  To answer this question we first have to ask ourselves:

1.  Is the plant worthy?
2.  Can we grow it?
3.  Are we making enough profit on the item?
Before starting any new product we first trial it outside to make sure it is truly unique compared to other products already on the market making it worth growing.  Also this trialing period is a good time to note whether or not the plant can be grown in our climate.  Something else we consider is whether or not a potential new product is easy to propagate conventionally as the tissue culture process is costly. 
Once it is established that a plant is worthy, the next step is to determine if it can be produced with success.  Some plants prove extremely difficult to grow in the lab, such as trees.  Other plants don’t grow well in either the lab or the greenhouse and the losses involved are too high to make much if any profit.  An example of this for our lab would be Ensete ‘Maurelli’; by the time everything was said and done plant losses were 50% or more.  This does not account for space and labor losses this plant caused as well.  Other plants grow very well in the lab; it is the Texas climate that causes poor to no survival.  Phormium and Libertia are examples of this type of plant, which look fine in cooler months but cannot make it through the extreme summer months.
Lastly, we ask, are we making a profit on this item?  Some plants are worthy and we can grow them, it is other issues make them bad choices for production.  Bananas such as Musa ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ are examples of this.  Bananas is a great candidate for tissue culture but the problem was the amount of labor needed to keep the plants maintained in the lab, being 2-3 times more than a woody.  Also, the big sales season is in the spring so the rest of the year is spent on maintenance or subculturing the mother stock.  There are many reasons to produce a product or not, each plant must be looked at individually to make an informed decision.

How do we get a plant into a sterile environment?

There are many factors that come into play when deciding what steps to take in getting a plant clean of contaminates.  Plant type, plant age, the growing environment that the plants were in, time of year, and more all play large rolls into how successful the sterilization procedure will be.  Plants we commonly produce have a general sterilization procedure but even the same plant can have different results using the same procedure.  The best method is to decide the procedure used the day of initiation according to the plants appearance.  Tender plants can burn easily and plants that are more mature may need more sterilization.  A combination of Sodium Hypochlorite, Ethanol, along with sterile distilled water and Tween is used in our sterilization procedures.

How do we grow a plant in a sterile environment?

Once the plant is clean it is time to figure out what media it will best grow on.  To keep processes efficient we usually try and grow a new plant on media we already are using and making in large batches, pending the research shows it can grow on something similar.  Small batches of media are made for plants that we know our common media will not work on and for experimental media for plants that are not performing to our standards.
Not only must media be considered but the crop cycle must be decided as well.  Some plants will let you know very quickly how long their crop cycle is.  Yucca ‘Color Guard’, for instance, will start dying at about 4 weeks, if they are not transferred on time the crop will be lost.  Woody plants can survive longer than most herbaceous plants and some need to be subcultured less or they perform poorly when weaning.  The most common crop cycle is 6 weeks but many plants can go longer than this.  As the lab gets behind on transfers, which is common, we quickly learn what plants last the longest.


Plant produced in tissue culture become accustomed to living in a perfect environment and then they must be able to survive the great outdoors which has a higher light intensity, less humidity and for the most part in Texas, is hotter.  We help them as best we can with the transition by using a double shade system, black shade cloth on the outside of the greenhouse and Svensson® XLS firebreak screen on the inside to reduce temperatures.  Also we cover the plants with a plastic dome, which are purchased clear but are given a light coat of white spray paint to give even greater protection from the high light.  The domes serve another purpose as well by keeping the humidity high.  After a week of being covered the plants are uncovered to start to adjust even further to the drier air.  To keep the temperature cooler in the summer months a Kool Cell pad and fan system is used.  In the weaning area no fertilizer is used as to not burn the roots of the sensitive plantlets.  After around 4 weeks plants are moved to their final location before shipping.  These growing areas have high light levels and liquid feed is used in these areas.  Plants have the hardest time adjusting to the outside environment during our summer months, which can be very hot and humid.  Because of the harsh summer we must pick plants that can handle this rather than try to fight the climate.  Also we have to be very careful planting during extreme heat such as in June 2009 where we had 7 days straight above 100 °F (38°C).  Plants that are sensitive in the weaning process should be held in the lab when possible until the weather cools. 

How do we handle production in a bad economy?

A slow economy comes in cycles so one must be prepared for this to happen.  The most important thing we do is keep in contact with customers to see how they are doing, what products do they need and what orders will need to be cancelled.  Even with communication it is still hard to know exactly when things are going to come to a stand still and when things will start moving again.  There are several steps we take to keep plants in the pipeline so that we are ready when sales pickup.  Young plant production has a continuous pipeline of product being produced, once sales slow the numbers coming out of the pipeline must be adjusted.  The mother stock must always be maintained or subcultured even if product is not needed otherwise the crops will decline and eventually die.  We usually try and keep motherstock at predetermined inventory levels.  When subculturing any excess product produced will be rid of to keep the supply in check with the market demands rather than putting it into stage 3 production.  This is also a good time to weed out any weak plants and get crops in top-notch condition.  Discarding plants in the micro stage is the most cost efficient as the cost of planting and maintaining in the greenhouse can be considerable.  The flow of the pipeline will be slower but it should not stop completely so that there is product ready to go when sales pickup, if the pipeline is completely shut off it could take upwards of 20-30 weeks to get product ready for sales.  Ways of doing this include holding plants in a cooler at 40 °F (4.5°C) to slow down growth, holding plants on the shelf longer before sending to wean, holding plants outside longer by keeping in the weaning area longer and by decreasing fertilizer usage once they are moved to their finishing location.  Because sales are slow in a downturn eventually finished material must be discarded because the quality no longer meets our standards and most products have a limited shelf life no matter how much care is given to them.  As old plants in various stages of growth are rid of, new plants are replanted in hopes sales will pick up, keeping the pipeline full.


Producing plants is tricky as they are living and will not fit the factory production model.  This can cause much frustration at times, as plants seem to have a mind of their own.  For us there is no better reward than to discover a new product at the nursery and to then see it through to production, marketing and eventually sales.  It is the light at the end of the tunnel that drives us.


Young plant production comes with many challenges as most businesses do but there are many rewards to be enjoyed once these challenges are worked through.  At Magnolia Gardens Nursery we decide what plants best fit into our production model, fine tuning a selection of product that is in good demand, that will receive a fair price, and that we can produce with great success and quality.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tradeshow Report Summer 2009

Well the summer tradeshow season has come and gone for us here at Magnolia Gardens Nursery. It has been a few weeks of whirlwind travel for me so I have not had much time to post anything. I am finally getting settled back in after a week back home so I thought I would write a few things that were on my mind before I take off again with Neil one of the managers at our container division to Amsterdam to visit nurseries and the flower auction as well as a good friend who recently moved there. After that we fly over to Ireland to the IPPS International conference. I am really excited about this as I have never been to Ireland or Holland and have never been to an International IPPS meeting that was outside of the US, weee! Also I am excited about meeting Pat FitzGerald who we have done some work with and someone who’s tweets I really enjoy reading. All right enough about the future because you will certainly hear about that once it is the past. For now let’s get on with the past!

August 10th marked the first day of my 2 weeks of travel. I took a flight to Dallas, TX…I know I go far when I travel! LOL! I would have driven but I did not want to have to drive back to Houston to have to fly out again to Colorado. I left on the 10th because I am a member of the Parks and Patio task force. This is a group of people that are in charge of decorating the TNLA Expo with gardens, mixed containers and more. Without these areas the tradeshow would just be plain and boring. Plus we have to go big because the Expo is in Texas y’all! For more on this group see the article I wrote about them here:

Not much to see here yet!
The GIANT fountain being installed. 

Monday through Thursday was spent decorating the hall, the hall went to complete flat concrete to a masterpiece in just 4 short days.A shot of one Parks and patio area, also nice to see Flirt Nandina front and Center!

The herb garden I was in charge of putting together, came out better that expected! 
I was not there to witness but I am sure the whole thing came down a lot quicker….probably 4 hours! During my time with Parks and Patio I went to check to see how Holly was doing on her own since I was not there to help. Of course she was perfectly fine on her own and our booth was rockin’! For those of you who where at Expo you might remember it from the hot orange colors..or maybe Stacie caught your eye.  We didn't win best booth award, a prefabricated booth won, kinda bummed but we know ours was a winner in the hearts of the Expo visitors.  A booth has to be good when people want to take pictures of it and with Stacie!  Next year we will be back with an even better booth...we are already formulating ideas!
Blue..Orange, Fabulous together! For sure stood out in all of the Green of the show.
Disco was the theme, we even did some dancin'!
Green Walls! Also you can see Holly's pic on the B&W poster above!
Love is in the air!

Friday August 14th marked the first day of the Expo and Holly and I were happy to see the mood nor the traffic were as bad as we had been expecting. People seemed upbeat, traffic was good though a little down and we actually sold a little product which helped pay for the show so that was a bonus. Amy Prenger with the TNLA State office had this to say “Our total attendance was 7,025! Last year we were at 7,029. The attendees, not counting exhibitor personnel, was actually up about 8%. Our total exhibitor personnel was down, but attendees were up!” So I guess it was more than a feeling there were more people walking the show this year. Our newest Nandina, Flirt at the PDSI booth!

Around noon I left the Expo and headed for the airport to fly out to Colorado Springs because I was running in the half marathon the next day….acclimate…who needs to acclimate, that is for wimps. Ok, just kidding! If I had time I would have gone earlier, it might have helped, at least I like to think that was why I was huffing and puffing more than normal. The half marathon is called the Pike’s Peak Accent, I call it the run to the top of the world, because you run to the top of Pike’s Peak. A view from the top of the world.
Each step closer equals less oxygen in the air, by the time I reached the top I had reached the Rocky Mountain High that John Denver sings about. I made the journey in 4 hours and 48 minutes, I am thinking next year to do the full marathon because I must really love pain, haha! I did do my own Pike’s Peak decent 2 days later to see who this felt, it is a lot harder than you would think, took me 3 hours 30 minutes, 13 miles on flat road takes me just under 2 hours. My legs hurt more from the decent than the accent, but at least I was not breathing as hard going down, just had to watch my feet more carefully so that I did not fall and bash my teeth out!

After my time in Colorado Springs was up I flew directly to Portland, Oregon for the Farwest show on Wednesday the 19th of August. I got there later than we normally get there but I did not have much selection coming out of the tiny COS airport. I did get there in time to at least help Holly a little with setup then to go enjoy our traditional meal at Nicolas Restaurant, a hole in the wall place with great Lebanese food. Fresh homemade bread and hummus, what more could you ask for? After are satisfying meal we headed to Hood River where we would spend the night before the first day of the show. The show starts at noon everyday so we like to spend our time exploring Oregon. In Hood River we shopped a little and found a brewery called Full Sail that had some tasty beer. Decisions, Decisions...
After that it was off to the hotel for a much needed full night’s rest. The tradeshow in Oregon was again more upbeat than we expected, we changed booth locations and this seemed to bring us better traffic, only we hope next year giant palms won’t be blocking our view, I always thought 10’x10’ meant that but I suppose you could take that sizing as meaning you are getting a bigger booth, hmmmm. Still groovin' on the West Coast!
The OAN had this to say about the show “Members reported that in spite of the worst recession in decades, which resulted in less activity than prior years on the show floor, there was still a spirit of optimism. Many trust that the industry will regain its footing during the recovery, which economists believe is already underway.” We gave away blinky lights, a USA flag to go with our all liners are grown in the USA campaign. These were a big hit at both tradeshows, not sure if it will help business, not sure if any giveaways actually do, but it did bring us attention at the show. After the first day we got to go to our hotel in downtown Portland, I was really excited about this since it was new and a boutique hotel, just my style. The name is The Nines, and appropriately so, this place was amazing. The view from our room of the Urban Farmer.
Our room, I know.....jealous huh?
It is in the former Meyer & Frank building and it is unique, at least to me, because the lobby was on the 8th floor. The restaurant was on this floor as well, some of the rooms looked down onto the restaurant, like ours that was on the 10th floor. Great drinks at the Urban Farmer but we never ate there so I don’t know how to rate the food. We did get to enjoy a meal at Jake’s Grill which is always lovely, wish I had saved room for dessert! The next night we enjoyed greasy bar food at our new favorite hole in the wall bar with no name, across from the physic….which yes is a tradition to go to as well! We also enjoyed a few cocktails at Saucebox, if you like interesting drinks this is the place to go…then walk back across the street for more fried goodies at the bar with no name! A tradition, get a few fancy drinks at SauceBox, while people watching Mary's across the street.
This lady knows things she shouldn't! Probably sees dead people too!

All in all we felt Portland was successful in the contacts we made and we look forward to continuing to build relationships with our West Coast friends.