It comes as no secret that today’s “big box” stores wield tremendous buying power in
the greenhouse ornamental market. As consumers become more discerning and
retailers more demanding, ornamental growers are under increasing pressure to deliver
plants with optimum size, shape and quality at competitive prices.
Fortunately, greenhouse growers can call on a growing number of plant growth
regulators (PGRs) to help them manage growth and maximize greenhouse profits.
Bigger retailers, higher expectations
“You look at industry trends and the big retailers are certainly getting bigger in terms
of their overall influence in the marketplace,” observed Dr. Brian Whipker, Professor –
Floriculture Extension & Research, North Carolina State University. “The big chains
demand that ornamental growers meet their rigid specifications or risk losing their
business. So it’s important for growers to use PGRs on most varieties to control the
height and architecture of their plants.”
Kevin Forney, technical services manager for Fine Americas, Inc., echoed Dr.
Whipker’s statement. “The big box stores are demanding ever-increasing levels of
conformity and quality control from their ornamental suppliers. Retail buyers have
clearly defined specifications when it comes to plant height, and they expect growers to
meet those specs on a consistent basis. Simply put, retailers don’t want noticeable
variations in size, shape and color in the plants they receive. And the reason is fairly
clear: Consumers tend to ‘pick through’ displays and leave less desirable plants
behind. In many cases, those plants never make it out of the store and often end up in
a dumpster as shrinkage.”
“Retailers want a specific plant with a specific look to it,” noted Sarah Lehning,
nursery manager at Speedling, Inc. in Blairsville, GA. “PGRs allow us to push fertilizer
rates and produce fuller, greener plants while keeping them short and compact.
They’re critical in our plug production in many cases, allowing us to deliver plants with a
high degree of uniformity and consumer appeal.”
Programmed ornamental production
While PGR use varies somewhat from region to region, Dr. Whipker noted “with our
weather in the Southeast, we incorporate PGRs as an integral part of our best practices
for ornamental production. Even in Northern growing areas, recent studies seem to
indicate that PGRs can be more economical than temperature control alone in
managing plant growth and development.”
Forney noted that many large growers incorporate PGRs in their recipes to bring a
higher level of precision to their production programs. “We have some customers who
use growth charts to accurately predict plant height throughout the growing cycle based
on their PGR applications. By incorporating PGRs into their overall production
program, they have a high level of confidence in their ability to deliver precisely what
their big box customers want, when they want it.”
More options, lower costs
The introduction of newer PGRs, such as Configure and Augeo, has given growers
more options for controlling the architecture of their plants, according to Dr. Whipker.
In addition, the popularity of off-patent products have made PGRs more affordable for
most growers. “Ancymidol (Abide and A-Rest) is one product that’s come down
significantly in price over the past few years since the introduction of Abide,” he noted.
Dr. Whipker added that low-dose applications of certain PGRs have proven to be a
very economical means of limiting growth once a crop has reached a desired height.
“Growers can get their plants up to a specified height, then use low doses of PGRs to
maintain them at that height until they’re ready to ship. It’s one way growers can meet
customer expectations without sacrificing profitability.”
An attractive return on investment
University studies show that the benefits of PGRs far outweigh the cost of these
proven production tools. “Our research shows that a small investment in PGRs can
reduce water and nutrient requirements,” Dr. Whipker stated. “With PGRs, growers
can cut their water and fertilizer use by up to 20% while producing plants with more
consistent height, shape and overall quality.”
Furthermore, PGRs can reduce plant spacing in the greenhouse by 15 to 20%,
allowing more plants per square foot and lower overall fixed production costs.
According to Dr. Whipker, this benefit of lower fixed costs alone can deliver a 10X
payback on a grower’s PGR investment.
In addition to the cost savings and production efficiencies afforded by PGRs, these
important production tools can pay off in greater customer satisfaction and higher net
profits. “Our experience has shown that growers who judiciously incorporate PGRs into
their production programs typically see higher levels of customer satisfaction, fewer
complaints and improved net profits,” observed Greg Johnson, president of Fine
Americas. “PGRs allow growers to bring out the best in their plants for a very modest
In summarizing the economic benefits of PGRs, Dr. Whipker stated, “We always say
PGRs don’t cost money, they make you money. And I believe that’s truer now than