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Plant Growth Regulators: More Color, Less Clippings

DANNY FASOLD | Landscape Maintenance
It’s increasingly tough trying to keep afloat these days, no matter what industry you’re in. With the economy in shambles and many longtime businessmen now jobless, making sure your company stays relevant has never been more important.

It’s time to try to get a leg up on the competition and carve a new name for your company. Getting your company to stand out from the rest of the crowd will be a feat. One way to do this is by proving to your clients that you not only give them the biggest bang for their buck, but that you have knowledge your competitors might not. One area that’s worth looking into that can deliver on both of these tenants is plant growth regulators (PGRs).

PGRs offer contractors a way to cut back on the amount of time they spend mowing turf and maintaining shrubs by slowing the growth of plants. On a large facility, like a factory or office park, you send your crews out on a weekly basis. If the site is large enough, it could take a crew an entire day to cut the turf, etc.

“PGRs are like plant hormones,” says John Law, director of technical services for ValleyCrest Landscape Development, Pleasanton, California. “There are two big reasons to use them in the landscape industry. One is to increase the functionality and aesthetic value of the grass. The other one is simply to save on labor.”

By applying PGRs to the turf you can slow the growth of grass to the point where you can cut down the number of visits. By cutting back on the amount of time you spend maintaining the turf on one site, you will have more time to add additional clients, without adding additional staff.

In addition, PGRs can help improve the look and overall aesthetic value of the plant. “We will get our nursery plants looking real compact by applying PGRs,” says Don Myers, product development manager at Bayer, Durham, North Carolina. “We’ll have it so they’re blooming at the time of sale. That’s what attracts buyers to them.”

There are many benefits to using PGRs on turf or on shrubs, but there are also a number of potential setbacks, especially if you’ve never had any experience in using them before. There is a learning curve on how to apply PGRs, it isn’t something you just pick up. Certain factors must be considered when applying PGRs. You must take into account the type of grass or plant you’re treating, the time of year, current weather conditions, the type of fertilizer you’re using, grass or plant height and more. In some states PGRs can be considered a pesticide, and as such, you have to be licensed in order to use them. The most important thing to remember with any chemical use, especially with PGRs is to follow the instructions on the label. Using too little won’t be effective over-applying can cause harm to the plant or the environment, so you must be careful to not use too much.

“Always make sure you follow the label instructions,” says Ken Wentland, client representative for KEI Enterprises, Oak Creek, Wisconsin. KEI is a landscape management company, and people such as Wentland have plenty of experience out on the field using PGRs on their clients’ properties. “Everyone always thinks more is better, but with these products and that’s not the case. You have to know the product, and what you’re doing with the product.”

All the bells and whistles

There’s a vast array of PGR products to choose from, each of which has its own specialized use. You can apply PGRs which are absorbed by the foliage of the plants (a common method for turf grass) or which are absorbed by the roots (a common method for plants or shrubs). You can use PGRs which prevent the division of cells within the plant or which act as Gibberillic Acid Inhibitors (GAIs), which prevent cell elongation. There are PGRs that can be applied in liquid form or as a granular. In fact, when you look at all the different kinds there are out there, it starts to feel endless. Finding the right PGR for the job can be a challenge for those just starting out, but once you’ve found that best fit, there are all kinds of benefits you’ll be able to reap from it.

For one, you will save on labor. By properly using PGRs, you will drastically cut back on mowing frequency and reduce the amount of clippings left behind. “If you can reduce the amount of time spent on the property mowing lawns and collecting clippings, that’s a huge savings,” says Myers, “and the more properties you’ll be able to tackle in any given workday.” You can also get a much better color using GAIs. By blocking cell elongation, these kinds of PGRs will prevent the plants from growing vertically. What many don’t realize is that as a plant is growing in height, it’s actually dispersing its chlorophyll (the plant ingredient responsible for its green color) throughout the body of the plant.

In other words, the taller the plant is, the more its chlorophyll will be spread out. This makes for plants that are relatively light in color. Once you prevent the cells from elongating, however, this will make the plant more compact and its color much richer. 09.jpg

“It’s like if you’re blowing up a balloon,” says Roger Storey, vice president of the turf and ornamental business unit for SePRO, Carmel, Indiana. “As you’re blowing up that balloon, it’s stretching, and the color of the balloon is becoming lighter. This is what is also happening to the color of the grass. So when you use GAIs, you’re actually giving your grass a darker green color, because the cells aren’t stretching and their color isn’t becoming as widely dispersed.”

You can add additional touches to the overall look of plant material by using PGRs which contain cyclanilide. This bio-regulating chemical stimulates branching by telling the tip of the plant to inhibit the production of auxin. Having more branches gives you a thicker, better looking plant, so cyclanilide products are very helpful in this area.

Plant material will also be much easier to care for with the use of PGRs. By slowing their growth, you won’t have to prune each individual plant as much. “They are just another tool you can use to simplify your work,” says Myers. “Say you’re dealing with hundreds of plants; well, they all need a lot of care. If you have to prune every one of them to get them to look nice, that’s a lot of extra money and labor.

You will also save on water. The plants themselves won’t require much watering after they’ve been treated. Because you’ve stopped some of the upward growth of the plant, its transpiration is going to be diminished, so it won’t pick up and use as much water. In this way, PGRs are also very green-friendly.

Bidding on a project these days require some sharpening of your pencil in order to be competitive. In most cases bidding on a maintenance project all comes down to how much time is spent on the job site. If the project you’re bidding on requires many hours of pruning and trimming plants and shrubs, by using PGRs you can cut down the amount of visits to a client’s property. If you don’t have to spend all that time trimming shrubs, it is obvious you can cut down your bid and be very competitive.

The same holds true with turf. Using these inhibitors will allow you to be competitive. By the way, this might not apply for all your clients. Another thought is by not mowing as frequently, you can add more clients to your route, or you won’t use the equipment as much, therefore extending the life of the equipment.

Another area where PGRs work well is on slopes, “It’s hard to mow steep areas,” says Dennis Shepard, technical manager at Syngenta. “If you're concerned about worker safety, you’ll want to mow those spots as infrequently as possible. By applying PGRs to those steeper areas, you won’t have to mow there as often.”

When to apply, when not to apply

Spring is the time of the year when most plants get out of their dormancy and begin to grow. This is the best time for you to use PGRs for controlled growth. Aggressive growers such as ivy’s are especially prevalent during this time. Controlling them is a top priority if you want to keep the site looking nice, trim and pest-free. “You will want to start applying PGRs at about the second or third mowing of the growing season and then continue applying them all the way through the summer months,” recommends Storey. “In those seasons where the grass is growing really fast and you’re getting a lot of rain fall, it can be a real challenge to keep the grass mowed,” says Shepard. “So that’s a really good time of year to use the material.”

When applying PGRs to plant material, timing is especially critical. Late applications can cause excessive plant stretching, which will result in weak, spindly stems. But if you apply in the early stages of flower bud development, you can improve the bloom size of the plants. You should always be weary when applying them in dry situations. Plants generally do not grow well when the temperature is high and the moisture is low, so trying to apply PGRs in these conditions is a bad idea. It could damage the plants, and wilted, discolored vegetation is the last thing your client wants on the property.

You should also avoid using PGRs in areas near water sources. PGRs are considered pesticides, and as such, should be kept away from the water.

Over-regulating is another issue many inexperienced operators will run into. One way you can avoid over-using is by using a turf dye. Simply add dye to the spray, and as you apply the material, it will leave a blue tint to mark the spots you’ve already sprayed. This tint will last for about an hour before disappearing.

A greener world

In the past several years, there’s been a crackdown on green waste. Green waste consists of all the grass clippings, hedge trimmings, flower cuttings and chunks of wood that you’ll end up with after performing maintenance on a jobsite. All this debris can really add up, and companies will often spend much of their manpower dumping that waste at the closest landfill.

But in states such as California and in cities such as Honolulu, Hawaii, we’re seeing more and more green waste restrictions in the form of government legislation. Such legislation limits the amount of green waste you’re allowed to dump in a landfill, or bans green waste dumping altogether. PGRs offer a way for you to cut back on the amount of green waste you produce. After all, if there’s less growth, there will be less mowing and trimming, which means fewer clippings to dump.

No PGR will truly reduce the size of the plant. You’re never going to shrink the plant, or permanently stop it from growing. But you can certainly control its growth. And, in a time when integrity and efficiency are more crucial than ever what is important to remember is that when properly used, PGRs can be a tremendous weapon in your arsenal for time management and labor costs.

 
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