GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2005 show24
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Show #24

Trees, shrubs and perennials appear in garden centers almost like magic. Most gardeners don't realize the time, energy and expense that goes into growing them. Today we're in California and go behind the scenes of one of the largest nurseries in the country to learn about propagation and growing landscape plants and discuss how long it takes to bring them to market. As well, we'll discuss several new plant varieties and specialty plants and some fall lawn care tips.

Judy Case, the Chairman of the Fresno County board of Supervisors welcomes Garden Smart to the region. Fresno County, California is located in the central part of the state, they are the number 1 agricultural county in the United States. Why are so many things grown in this region? It has a wonderful Mediterranean climate, the summers are long, it's warm, dry and many plants like that environment. Fresno county produces over 350 varieties of fruits and vegetables, many of which Fresno County is the major producer of that type crop. An example might be lettuce, many times in the winter 90% of the lettuce produced in the entire U.S. comes from Fresno. In the springtime, starting about the last week of February and through the month of March they have the Blossom Trail that visitors can follow and see blooming fruit trees, like peaches, plums and nectarines. A Fruit Trail Tour starts after the Blossom Trail, visitors can visit fruit stands that might have strawberries, blueberries, all different kinds of great fruits and vegetables. Here you can get them fresh picked, right off the farm. So Judy invites all Garden Smart viewers to come and visit the area. In the meantime we're going to join Charlie at a local nursery and learn a little about how plants are developed before you put them in your garden.

Charlie is visiting this week with Nicholas Staddon, Director of New Plant Introductions at Monrovia, in the San Jaoquin Valley. Nicholas tells us about this state of the art facility. Over 14 million plants are shipped from this location every year. It is comprised of 2,500 acres, employs 2,300 people and they grow 220 different varieties of plant material, everything from a small plant up to a large tree, a 20 gallon size plant. It is a challenge to keep track of all these plants, but the American gardener has an insatiable appetite for plant material so it's their job to give them what they want. Charlie is impressed with the fact that all plants are grown in containers from little 1 gallons up to the huge containers for trees. Nicholas says that is a challenge because some plants may be in a container for 6 months while others may be there 9 years. Many years presents a challenge because they must figure growth rates, correct soil mixes, etc. It's a labor of love to take a plant from conception all the way to market. We show the process.

We start in the propagation house, this is where life starts at the nursery. They produce from seed, from cutting, from tissue culture. They divide, graft, they bud. Tissue culture is the latest and newest way to produce plant material. Plants are established in a medium and they live in that confined area for a period of weeks. This method allows more plants to be brought to market faster and it cleans up viruses or disease. Tissue culture entails a little piece of the plant growing in a propagation medium. It's a microscopic portion of the leaf planted in the medium. Thus thousands of plants can be grown from 1 little piece of the plant. The environment must be sterile, it is absolutely controlled - temperature, sterility, everything. We start with a Corripcris Bloomis Spirea, a beautiful garden shrub, which is produced from a cutting. We watch one craftsman cutting the plant then putting the cutting in a rooting hormone. This ensures that a root system is established within the little container. The plant will live several weeks in this container, called a rose pot. The cuttings come from plants in their field. They use plants grown in containers for a source of cuttings. On the banks, the areas that surround the nursery, are the mother plants. These are full sized plants that are used for seeds as well as cuttings. They use multiple sources of cuttings to keep the plants fresh. It's important to have a good strain because they're producing millions of plants. These craftsmen will produce 2,500 cuttings a day. We've seen how the cuttings work, now we look at the next step, the misting beds. The Wisteria in this area will live in here for between 6 to 8 weeks while they establish a root system. The mist comes on about every 6 minutes for 6 seconds. This provides the plant adequate moisture allowing it to establish a root system, this is a key portion of production. They are concerned about weeds in this area and don't want to use chemicals, thus they use rice hulls and pecan shells on top of liners. This completely suppresses weeds or musk growth. Chemicals come from the hulls and suppress growth in a natural way. The next stage is the liner beds and plants stay in this area for 7 to 10 months. Here they establish a final root system before moving to canning. Here they work with the plants to establish a beautiful branching structure. We look at a Bougainvillea, a Hibiscus and an Althea, called Diana. They have a fabulous root system and are ready to go to the next step, ready to go into the gallons. These plants are on a gravel surface but others are on a landscape fabric. This is a new idea, for years nurseries have produced plants on gravel, here they're going to the next step and putting plants on a weed barrier. This helps in recapturing water so there's an environmental advantage plus it helps cut down on disease problems because there is a barrier between the base of the container and the soil. By having the barrier, the plants will be stronger and healthier and they don't have to spray herbicides. They are constructing new greenhouses using the latest technology to grow plants. These buildings are climate controlled, they have retractable roofs to allow cold air in or warm air in when needed and the greenhouses have heated flooring. In the winter it gets quite chilly and they want to keep the root systems at a constant 68 degrees. Heated floors allows them to do that. It is a good thing to remember at home, if growing from seed or cuttings, it's nice to have a heating mat underneath your plants to help keep the roots systems warm. The plants will fill out quicker and be more healthy, therefore the plant will look better and can be put in the garden sooner. Next we go to the canning shed, this is where the plants go into containers. Years ago plants went into metal containers, today they use plastic. Here there are 7 or 8 craftsmen and every hour they can 2,400 gallon containers. Today they might be working on gallon containers, tomorrow possibly 5 gallon, the next 7 gallon. Quality is everyone's responsibility. The plants they're canning are Copresis Emerald Isle, it's an improved variety and as they pass each craftsmen they look for a plant that's of the highest quality. If it doesn't meet their standards, it's pulled out of the rack. The machines are state of the art but may be modified for special needs. For example, they know that the soil mix needs to be moist when it goes into the container so they've installed a special watering device. These plants often go into the nursery fields to be grown further and then probably sold next year. At that point they'll be big, full and bushy and ready for your garden. With all the different plants growing here they have different soils, 40 different customized soil mixes to be exact. They have huge piles of mulch and soil additives, all utilized to make compost. This is a key part of the production cycle, they actually blend their soil mix. Each soil mix is special to a different genus of plant, whether it's Spireas, Forsythias, Camelias. Whatever plant it might be they inoculate their soil mixes with a polymer coated slow release fertilizer that will actually last in the garden for up to a year and it's heat and water sensitive. They also inoculate all plants with microrrhizae.

Microrrhizae is a friendly fungus that occurs naturally in the soil and there are hundreds of different varieties. They've identified 4 types and created a blend for their plants. Homeowners can now buy microrrhizae in garden centers to inoculate your own plants either in the ground or in containers. It will help make them healthier and make for a better plant. They recycle a lot of plant waste. Recycling is a big part of what they do. If a plant doesn't make the grade or doesn't go to market they put it in the chipper and it goes into the soil mix. We next look at watering and fertilizing. We view their reservoir, it holds 20 million gallons of water and it's important to note they've organically sealed the ground with 5 different types of clay so there is no permeation through to the ground water. The water here is recycled, it ends up back in the reservoir. Remember the weed barrier, it is the key to recycling more water. They believe they are picking up 75% to 80% of their water to use again. This is extraordinarily high. During the recycling process they're measuring for fertilizer, measuring for other chemicals in the water, then before the water goes back into the field again for use it's blended 50/50 with fresh water to keep the quality up. The fresh water comes from the High Sierras, about 50 miles away. This water is pure, coming from the snow pack runoff and that water can be used through summer, providing there is enough snow during winter time.

We next look at some plant groups. We're in California and there is a lot of citrus. But you don't have to live here to grow citrus, you can grow it anywhere in the country, especially with some of the dwarf varieties and unusual varieties available. Nicholas recounts a little citrus history. Citrus plants have been around for hundreds of years and have always been valuable although originally valuable, primarily for their flowers. In the 14th century when the citrus plant was the rage in Europe, the Europeans built orangeries and developed citrus, nurtured them, would get them flowering, then bring them out to grace the halls where they had big dances and balls and dinners. Thus, it was flowers before fruit. Today we value the fruit more than anything else even though we enjoy the flowers. We look at several varieties. First is a Variegated Eureka Lemon, it has killer foliage. We also look at a mild lemon. It is probably the most popular lemon to use in kitchens, to put in your water or beverages. There is a Calimandarin Orange that has variegated fruit and is flowering. It is unique and beautiful and has a wonderful smell. Kumquat is a beautiful fruit. Nicholas loves the bush, it has a nice even shade. If you like marmalade this is the fruit for you. The skin is sweet, the flesh bitter. In a northern climate, in colder regions, places like the Rockies, the midwest, the east coast these plants work beautifully in containers. They love a half a whiskey barrel or a nice clay container, either round or square. When you pot these you need to use them with a sterile soil mix, a light soil mix that's well drained. Nicholas likes organic fertilizers, particularly fish kelp, fish emulsion, that sort of thing. Seek the advice of your local nursery expert, they have experience with these plants locally. Use them in your kitchen garden, on patios, move them around the garden to a micro climate so they perform well. As we move into fall and temperatures drop, bring them inside, put them in a sunroom or into an atrium. The nice thing about citrus is they bloom for months, thus you can have citrus blooming in December or January in MInnesota, for example.

A hot trend in gardening is topiaries. Nicholas has set up a topiary pruning demonstration. Jose Santoia is a craftsman and been with the nursery for 30 years. He is one of the senior growers responsible for every activity on 160 acres of this nursery. Utilizing his skill and expertise he will change the shape of this plant. He will take a rather ordinary tree shape and create a spiral form. Topiaries have been around since the beginning of civilization. Civilizations have come and gone but one of the marks they've left has been the topiary. Topiaries have forms like spirals, pom-poms, globes, boxes, hindu pons, they all represent a certain civilization. These plants can be used in various ways in the garden, they can be used as foundation plants, by entranceways, they can be stand alone specimens in the garden, they're great in containers. A lot of the work at this nursery is done by hand, just like with this topiary. These plants are touched often, pruning, tying of plants, etc. This topiary for example, if it were to be sold in a 15 or 20 gallon container it would be in the nursery for about 9 years and it would have been touched scores of times. They call themselves craftsmen because they do so much, with much skill, with their hands. Jose has transformed the topiary. This plant would still have another 5 years of growth before it would go to market. Thanks Jose for the pruning lesson.

Adams Holland and Janet Flores show us how to make a simple floral arrangement for your dining table. They use some crystal bowls with a little water inside. They've added some Snow in the Mountain and some Morning Glory vines. It looks complicated but isn't and it doesn't take much time. They just drape and layer things between the 3 bowls. Next they lay some Bay Laurel underneath the Snow in the Mountain. Snow in the Mountain has an odd sap that can cloud the water so put the ends, after cutting them, in boiling water or sear the ends with a flame. This arrangement gives an informal look with the wonderful formal structures of the crystal vase and the rabbit. Next some Late Harvest Hydrangea is added and they finish by adding a few roses. This is something that can be done quickly, you can use flowers from your garden or produce from your local grocery store. This will impress your guests and is something that can be done quickly. If it doesn't work the 1st time, just redo it.

Fall is a great time to fertilize your lawn, especially cool season grasses like Bluegrass and Tall Fescue. By fertilizing in the fall you're building up the root system but because it's cool the top won't grow as well so you won't need to mow as much. Before spreading your fertilizer you want to top dress with compost. Compost is a great additive for the lawn, especially if you sprinkle a quarter to a half inch layer on top of the lawn. It will work its way down and when down there will feed the root system and help with soil/water drainage and retain some moisture. After the compost, get some granular fertilizer, whether chemical or organic, but get a fertilizer that's lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorus and potassium so it feeds the roots. Sprinkle it around per the instructions and your lawn will get through the winter better and start up sooner in the spring.

We now look at some rare and unusual plants that are coming on the market. Nicholas has 3 great new varieties. The first is a Hydrangea, Macrofilia, Lady in Red. It comes from the breeding program of Dr. Michael Duhr the famous plant breeder. It has red stems and is truly unique, it has a lace cut flower which at maturity will turn red. The leaves, although an emerald green now, as they approach fall will turn a gorgeous ruby red color. It is a nice fall foliage plant but is a plant for all seasons. Next we view a brand new Juniper that was discovered at the nursery. It's name is Juniper Gold Coast Improved. The bright gold color is key in this garden. It draws you to its' area of the garden and works well with purples and blues. It has a particularly bright flush of gold foliage in the early spring. It has been 100 degrees for the last several weeks and it shows no sign of burning. Junipers are coming back in style, people want them because they're drought tolerant. Mandevilla Alice DuPont is a beautiful flowering vine. Many gardeners will be familiar with this plant, she's been around for awhile. The new improvement is the Tango Twirl. It has a beautiful flower that is shell pink and gorgeous. The flower is the size of a Peony and the buds, they're like small chickens eggs. It has a beautiful british racing green leaf. The plant is very forgiving in the garden, sometimes if a watering is missed with Mandevillas they'll defoliate from the bottom. If it happens to this plant it flushes right back. Charlie is going to look for these plants this next spring in his garden center.

Thank you Nicholas for taking us behind the scenes of this nursery. We've learned how to propagate plants, grow, fertilize and water them. We've even learned about pruning topiaries. Thank you for this tour. It has been spectacular, something we'll not soon forget.


Piccadilly Inn, Shaw Avenue

Fresno County Office of Tourism & Film



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