Roll with the Changes
Nursery meets landscaping preferences
Photos courtesy of Home Nursery, Inc.
Whether they feature plants with shiny leaves or
perennials exhibiting brightly colored blooms, today’s landscape
designs are very different from a decade or two ago. Homeowners and grounds
managers are looking not only for attractive grounds, but also ease of
maintenance. Home Nursery, Inc., located in Edwardsville, Ill., in the St.
Louis metro area, has continually changed its focus as consumer landscaping
preferences have changed over the years. The family-owned and operated
wholesale nursery has received numerous awards for its service and
products. Home Nursery family members have been active in green industry
issues, and Ann Tosovsky currently serves on the executive board of the
Illinois Green Industry Council, formerly the Illinois Nurserymen’s
|Perennial plants are grown at the company's growing operations in Albers, Ill.
Home Nursery (www.homenursery.com) originally sold
plants through several retail centers. Over the years, the business focus
has changed to propagating and growing plants for wholesale to landscapers
and garden centers. The corporate office is located in Edwardsville, with
growing operations located at nearby Albers, Ill. “We have about 200
acres of balled plants and about 150 acres of container plants,”
Tosovsky said. Distribution centers are located at Albers and in
O’Fallon, Mo. The two distribution centers primarily serve small
landscapers in the St. Louis metro area who buy in small quantities. Plants
are delivered by Home Nursery in the St. Louis area and by contract
delivery throughout the12-state area it serves.
Responding to change
“We were probably best known for our taxus and
upright junipers,” said Tosovsky. While evergreens of various types
continue to be an important component of Home Nursery’s products,
changing tastes have dictated diverse plants. Perennials, roses, ornamental
grasses and various container plantings have increased in popularity.
Tosovsky said, “For the past 10 years or so,
shrub roses have been very big. People want blooms. The shrub rose
Knock-Out Red is one of our most popular. Color has been the trend in
recent years with hydrangeas also very popular. We’re seeing more
boxwood as compact hedges replacing formal gardens and more interest in
hardy bamboo. People want more color and low maintenance.”
Although responding to customer preferences is
important in any business, caution is the byword in entering the field with
new plants. “We’re cautious about new varieties,”
Tosovsky. “Nursery plants need to be studied to see how well they
really do in specific areas. We’re very careful of jumping in with
too many new plants too quickly.”
While Home Nursery is cautious about implementing
changes based on trends in landscaping preferences, Tosovsky is interested
in how the trends will progress. “It goes through cycles,” she
said. Current interest remains strongly focused on color in landscaping,
and Tosovsky noted that people may at some point do a turnaround with
preferences reverting to evergreens. “You put those in your yard and
have to do very little with them,” she said. She is, however,
skeptical that the strong interest in blooming plants will lessen in the
near future. “People really like color, and it probably will stay
strong,” she said.
Propagation methods evolve
Home Nursery propagation methods have evolved from
earlier methods. “While it’s not new technology, we have been
using bottom-heated propagation for about five or six years,” said
Paul VanOteghem, production vice president. Plants were formerly propagated
in sand beds, and harvested when dormant and
potted into smaller containers. The process required about 18 months.
“We now direct-stick into cell trays,” VanOteghem said. The
trays vary from 21 to 72 cells, depending on the product. The bottom-heated
propagation method involves tubes buried and covered with gravel. Warm
water is circulated through the tubes, and flats with the direct-stick
cuttings are placed on top of the heated area. The method cuts the time
required to about six months, and plants develop into more heavily rooted
product. Plants then may be transferred to 1-gallon or larger planters,
depending on whether the plant is an aggressive grower or slow grower.
While Home Nursery previously propagated all of its
own plants, a number of plants are now purchased as very small plants and
grown at the nursery. “There’s been a major increase in
licensing and patenting of plants,” VanOteghem said. “We may
not be licensed for a particular plant, so we contract for that.”
High-profile national marketing has increased interest in specific plants.
Home Nursery purchases liners, small flats of starter plants in the
often-requested patented plants, and grows them into the larger plants.
|Student workers stick clippings into cell trays for rooting process.
|The taxus crop is irrigated with sprinkler irrigation.
|Employees dig plants to be wrapped in burlap.
Irrigation and technology upgrades
Tosovsky said that the Albers farm was purchased in
1970, a selection made in a large part due to its proximity to the St.
Louis metro area and its ample water supply. “We recapture 90 percent
of the rainwater, and our irrigation is primarily from retention ponds. We
pump from wells when the retention ponds get low,” she said. A
distant pond located in a flood plain is a key water source used for
irrigation when needed. A major irrigation upgrade was recently completed
with Trickl-eeze, St. Joseph, Mich., providing irrigation consulting.
“We had outgrown our irrigation system,” said VanOteghem.
Overhead irrigation is used and the system features a Galileo computerized
controller system. About 2.5 miles of 12-inch PVC pipe are included with
3-inch aluminum lateral pipe and Netafirm solenoid valves. Rain Bird impact
sprinklers are used. Six electric pumps can pump up to 6,000 gallons of
water a minute, and diesel backup pumps are in place.
“We upgraded our accounting software in
2000,” Tosovsky said. “We have recently been working on the
inventory component of the software package.” She sees the
computerized tracking for production as a major step for the company, but
said that it’s not an exact science. “We have to figure out
exactly what we have to sell and where it’s located on the
farm,” she said. “When product continuously moves from place to
place and changes in size, that process is very challenging.”
In addition to market changes, weather challenges are
major concerns to any growing operation. The spring 2007 freeze was out of
the ordinary and presented major challenges to the firm. Record-breaking
ice storms and windstorms brought major damage throughout the region.
Home Nursery was established in 1921 by
Tosovsky’s grandfather, Ernest, who had emigrated as a child with his
mother from Czechoslovakia. Tosovsky’s father, Chuck, is
president of the company. Tosovsky graduated from Eastern Illinois
University and worked in the computer industry before joining the family
business. She is vice president of public relations, and Tim, her cousin,
is a sales consultant. They are third-generation family members now active
in the business.
Tosovsky noted that a well-structured plan is
necessary to efficiently run a family business. “You have to have a
plan of succession,” Tosovsky said.
Management of Home Nursery is designated to specific
staff members. In addition to family members, five senior managers, two
distribution center managers and several department managers have
responsibilities in the firm.
Employee relations are important in successful
operations, and Home Nursery focuses on employee retention. A newsletter
published three times yearly highlights specific employees and their
contributions to the firm. “It makes them feel like a part of the
business,” Tosovsky said. While Tosovsky noted that meeting
immigration requirements complicate the hiring process, many of the
approximately 90 full-time employees are long term, with only about 25
seasonal workers added each year.
The Tosovsky family has long been involved in green
industry issues, and Tosovsky has been an activist in state and federal
legislative issues. Family member endowment funds support research through
the Horticultural Research Institute (HRI), the research arm of the
American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA).
Nancy Riggs is a freelance writer and frequent
contributor to Turf. She resides in Mt. Zion, Ill.