Horticulture conference reveals trends

How wonderful to end July with rains across much of our state. They have really refreshed our lawns and gardens and give us a chance to visit about something besides mulching and watering in our summer gardens. I just returned from the American Society of Horticultural Science in St. Louis, the annual gathering of all the horticulture professors from across our country. I’m not a professor but I still try to attend to listen to these bright folks talk, to see what research the graduate students and professors have completed and are pursuing.

There were several clear trends this year. Interest in vegetable, fruit, nut and berry or edible food production is up for both home gardeners and commercial producers. We have seen a surge in new gardeners raising tomatoes, peppers, herbs and melons for the first time in traditional gardens, interplanted with ornamentals or in containers. Across the country there is a trend towards locally grown commercial produce including some ornamental growers switching part, or occasionally all, of their production to produce. With the interest in more locally grown produce we are seeing more production of produce and berry crops on plastic film and other mulches, under row covers, under shade cloth, in tall season extending hoop houses and in temperature controlled greenhouses.

There is a lot of research to determine the best varieties, best fertilizer and watering protocols and best production systems for specific crops in regions all across the country. Most everyone expects water to become a bigger issue in the years ahead as costs go up and we stretch scarce resources and limited water distribution systems. There is growing interest in water tolerant natives, breeding other crops to tolerate and even produce fruit or flowers with lower water use. Many are working to refine sprinkler and drip systems to deliver less water, more efficiently as we all work to maintain our lifestyles and yet live a more sustainable life.

Over the last 20 years the research had focused on how much we could fertilize to get maximum plant growth. Now with fertilizer costing more and a commitment to be more sustainable, the fertilizer research is being directed to how low can we feed to meet the plants basic needs and get most of the benefit of fertilization to assure healthy and productive plants. There is significant university research now into organic or low impact fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides. There is a focus on finding good consistent liquid organics that could be applied through drip systems and to find more organic or biological controls that will have mainstream impact like BT (bacillus thuringensis) has had for worm control.

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