Looking Ahead to 2023: Preparing for Spring Crops
Think of this post as your “to-do” check list for the month of December, as the time to plan is now.
November 21, 2022 By ONfloriculture
This post gathers some of the most important things to plan and prep for in the greenhouse, including ordering inputs, preventative maintenance, and your pest management and PGR plans.
Think of this post as your “to-do” check list for the month of December, as the time to plan all this is now, before your spring production begins.
Spring Crop Check List:
- Make sure all your inputs are ordered
We can’t emphasize this one enough. Supply chain issues are still causing product shortages and shipping delays that are affecting many industries including greenhouses. Make sure you order potting mixes, plastic trays and pots, fertilizers, and production inputs well ahead of when you will need them. Consider ordering into your summer and fall crops as well, and storing the materials if you can. And, if you are planning on doing greenhouse upgrades in between seasons make sure you confirm delivery and installation timelines with your contractors. Many of them are facing delays too!
- Get your preventative maintenance done
Take some time to inspect the greenhouse for wear-and-tear. Repair cracked poly and broken glass to keep heat from escaping. Make sure old torn energy curtains are replaced. A heat sensitive camera can help to identify areas of energy loss and help you plan for energy efficient upgrades in the future.
- Sanitize NOW, THEN plan your disease management program
Several key spring crops, like Calibrachoa, Pansy and Petunia are highly susceptible to black root rot (Thelaiviopsis), and we’ve seen more Fusarium pop up in the last few years on crops like salvia, gerbera, echinacea and lavender. These pathogens are everywhere in the environment and can easily be brought in by insects like fungus gnats and shoreflies, on worker’s boots or via equipment.
More importantly, spores of these diseases can hide in nooks and crannies of benches while less-susceptible crops are growing, then pounce when conditions are right. So take advantage of the period in December when your benches are empty, and make sure to give everything a good cleaning.
Once black root rot or Fusarium get hold, it can be almost impossible to control them with fungicides. When it comes to these diseases, a good clean out of your spring crop propagation and growing areas is as close to a “silver bullet” solution as we are going to get. This includes:
- Scrub down your benches. This removes all the soil particles etc., where fungal spores might be hiding. It also allows sanitizers to work better, since they can get trapped by organic matter. Use a hose, scrub brush and a product like Strip-It to make sure everything is as clean as possible.
- Sanitize benches AND drip lines, where organic mater, biofilm and disease spores can accumulate. Use peroxide (Virkon) or quaternary ammonium (KleenGro) products at the recommended rates for the material you’re sanitizing. If cleaning drip lines, make sure to always thoroughly flush your watering system several times before plants go in to prevent any potential phytotoxicity.
- Use new plug trays. This may be more costly, but it’s something you’ll wish you did if you develop a problem. Pot/tray cleaners aren’t perfect, and trays can act as a ready source of innoculum for resting spores. If you are cleaning your trays, use the same process as for benches; first clean, then sanitize!
- Control fungus gnats and shoreflies, as they can spread disease spores. Fungus gnat larvae can also chew on plant roots, making them more susceptible to disease.
Planning Your Disease Management Program:
To help you plan your disease management program beyond just sanitation, you should also watch this video, by Plant Pathologist Dr. Mary Hausbeck on root rots in floriculture crops. It’s full of tips about prevention and products to use if you DO have a problem.
“Root rots: What you can’t see can hurt you” by Dr. Mary Hausbeck was recorded for OMAFRA’s GrowON webinar series in March of 2022.
Also make sure to check out other webinars on floriculture diseases recorded with Greenhouse Canada Magazine in 2019! These include “Fusarium basics” with Dr. Ann Chase of Chase Horticultural, and “Cultural controls for managing disease” by Dr. John Lea-Cox from the University of Maryland.
- Monitor pH for optimal nutrient uptake
Keeping the pH of your crops in an ideal range can help with a host of issues. To avoid common nutritional issues such as iron deficiency, it’s best to keep crops at a pH in the range of 5.5 to 5.8. Iron deficiency can be difficult to distinguish from other issues (like black root rot), but it typically leads to yellowing of new growth. Leaves may only show chlorosis between the veins, or it may be spread throughout the leaf. This is different from nitrogen deficiency where yellowing occurs in the oldest leaves. If iron deficiency occurs, adding a chelated form of iron is best for uptake.
A lower pH can also significantly inhibit black root rot. Aim for a pH between 5.0 and 5.5. Regularly monitor the pH and EC of your feed water and crops using the pour through method.
- Know your PGR Plan
This time of year, we get lots of questions about rooting hormones and other PGR products and rates for spring liners that are about to come in the door. If you do use PGRs in the production of your spring crops, it’s best to do some reading now, and have the right products on hand. Here are some great resources:
- Spring Liner Dips/Drenches lecture: https://egrouni.com/pdf/Liner.pdf
- Tool for calculating rates: https://e-gro.org/mixmaster/
- Annual plant PGR resource: https://www.fine-americas.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Annuals_PGR_Guide_2021.pdf
- Perennial plant PGR resource: https://www.fine-americas.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/PGR_Guide_2022-2023.pdf
- More PGR-related webinars: https://www.e-gro.org/webinars.php#collapseOne
*note that these resources originated in the US so it is the grower’s responsibility to determine if the products mentioned are available for use in Canada.*
- Plan your Bio Program
Advance planning can help you decide where you’re spending your dollars, and where you can potentially cut back based on last years performance. It can also help you plan for contingency issues(i.e. what are you going to do if your planned biocontrol program isn’t working?).
Thrips can be trickiest in hanging baskets, since they tend to get hung up and forgotten about. If the basket contains any thrips-magnet crops, then your best strategy is to use long-duration sachets, or even the new Ulti-Mite sachets. These products have a higher chance of ensuring mites are present in the baskets for 8-10 weeks, without needing to add a second sachet. For example, the Ulti-mite sachets are less dependent on ideal environmental conditions/placement, making them a good choice for hanging baskets above your regular crop.
Using dips on both mums and gerbera will make your life easier, as these popular crops can arrive already infested with insecticide resistant pests that may move to other attractive crops.
Use thrips-sensitive crops like verbena to assess whether your current strategy is working, or if you need to add things like twice-weekly sprays of Beauveria-containing microbial pesticides. BotaniGard and Bioceres are 2 different strains of Beauveria that are registered for floriculture crops.
Mass trapping is your friend in the spring, as temperatures above 10°C mean thrips can potentially fly in from outside (including the usual Western flower thrips AND onion thrips). Large sticky cards also help prevent thrips from migrating from source crops to sensitive crops.
As with thrips, aphids can be a major problem in hanging baskets, especially those containing calibrachoa or pansy. Recent work from Cornell University has demonstrated that parasitoids don’t control aphids on calibrachoa, which means pesticides are your best bet. Beleaf (flonicamid) has been the go-to for a while, but Altus (flupyradifurone) may provide an alternative if whitefly are also a concern. Both work best when applied as a preventative drench sometime in early March.
Although spider mites can generally be controlled with releases of Persimillis when outbreaks occur, broad mite and cyclamen mites are much harder. In some crops, high releases of Amblyseius cucumeriswill keep populations in check enough to get you to sale. Where broad mites tend to be your only problem (and insecticide residues aren’t an issue) preventative application of Fujimite or Forbid may be the best option. Pylon or Avid are also effective options if spider mites are also a crop concern.
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