The big news at New England Grows 2015 (GROWS) is that there will be two GROWS this year. The largest horticulture event in the Northeast is moving to early December starting with the next GROWS set for Dec. 2-4.

“We listened to our participants,” says Virginia Wood, executive director of New England Grows. “They want to attend the show earlier in their planning cycle. Logistically, December is a better time for travel to Boston.”

Going forward, the annual conference will continue to be held immediately after Thanksgiving at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC).

GROWS 2015, taking place Feb. 3-6, found itself wedged between major snowstorms that hammered coastal New England. (By the end of GROWS, Boston had recorded more than 60 inches of snow with more forecasted.) Show organizers appreciated the break in the weather, which allowed the event to get off to a strong start and pick up attendees as the weather moderated for those few days.

GROWS 2015 Founding Partners: Massachusetts Arborists Association, Massachusetts Nursery & Landscape Association, New England Nursery Association and Massachusetts Association of Landscape Professionals.PHOTOS: RONNIE HALL 

Despite the weather, the turnout for GROWS was encouraging, due to the popularity of its educational programs and the array of products and services filling the floor of the convention center. One of the strengths of GROWS from year to year is the diversity of exhibitors – landscape/lawn service, arboriculture, nursery and organics, to name a few. More than 450 companies exhibited this year.

An in-depth look at biologicals

Dr. David Gardner, The Ohio State University, kicked off the first day with an informative hour-long update on weed control, and was followed by a fascinating presentation by Dr. Raymond Cloud, Kansas State University, on how to implement an effective biological control program.

As is the key to avoiding any pest outbreaks, scouting is the most important management step in a biological control program. You need to know which insects and/or pests you are trying to control before you attempt to control them.

Cloud explained the two types of biological programs: augmentation and conservation. Augmentation involves the supplemental release of natural enemies, whereas conservation is protecting and maintaining existing populations of natural enemies already in the ecosystem. This is generally simple and cost-effective, so it is widely used in landscapes.

If you choose augmentation, then, as suggested, the next step is to introduce natural enemies to the landscape to help control the insects or pests. But as Cloud explained, it’s not just that simple. When you introduce natural enemy populations you are in effect disrupting the ecosystem, resulting in secondary pest outbreaks, which may require chemical controls.

It is also imperative to note that not all flowering species in a landscape have accessible pollen or nectar accessible for natural enemies, so as a lawn care professional you need to know your plants and your natural enemies. As Cloud says, that may require “habitat manipulation,” which means putting plants accessible to natural enemies around plants that are being attacked by pests to protect them.

Cloud says a biological control program can be implemented with any other integrated pest management (IPM) program you may already have and doesn’t necessarily mean that chemical controls are included. It’s just another tool in your toolbox to keep landscapes pest-free and your clients happy.

Connecting everybody on your team

In another session, John Kennedy, John Kennedy Consulting, Sykesville, Maryland, shared valuable business insights with an audience of 200 industry pros.

He said that as companies raced to get “lean and mean” in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 recessions, they ended up getting anorexic. Nursery owners cut back on their stocks and contractors pruned their staffs to survive the recession. Now that business is on the upswing again, owners are faced with the difficult prospect of finding and keeping good employees. Kennedy pointed to 2013 as the start of the “real” recovery.

The competitive pressures companies face today (pressures that will accelerate as the economy grows) demand owners “create a solid and unified force of people and energy focused on accomplishing the same mission,” he said.

Despite winter weather, the GROWS turnout was encouraging, as a result of its educational programs and show floor product booths.

Kennedy and other presenters at GROWS also hosted relaxed, “unplugged” Q&As after their hour-long sessions.

Sprint Sessions on the show floor stage gave attendees the opportunity to get their questions answered by experts. The Live Patio Build with permeable pavers and granite walls was a favorite stop for landscape professionals.

The Women in Horticulture event was another big hit at GROWS. GROWS also launched the new Future Leaders program designed to mentor young people who are learning about horticulture.

Turf magazine looks forward to seeing you at GROWS in December.

Ronnie Hall and Amy K. Hill are editor-at-large and editor of Turf magazine, respectively. Reach them at rhall@mooserivermedia.com and ahill@mooserivermedia.com.