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The 411 on PGRs

July 7, 2020 -  By

We all understand the practical premise behind plant growth regulators.  On top of promoting lateral growth, helping to prevent scalping and reducing clipping yields, they can reduce mowing — and the labor and resources it takes to conduct that mowing. That labor can then be deployed somewhere else on the property.

Since 2016, I’ve been an industry sales rep servicing folks in the golf, landscape, nursery and athletic field industries. In this role, I am continually struck by how little landscape companies in particular understand and appreciate how PGRs can work for them. I get their issues with the PGRs and turf: The less grass grows, the less frequently some homeowner or corporate client may need an LCO to show up and mow it.

But I think LCOs in particular are missing the forest for the trees on this front.

This is all top of mind because Shortstop 2SC, a product originally formulated as a PGR for trees, will be soon labeled for shrubs (that label is anticipated by the end of July 2020). Yes, Shortstop 2SC is manufactured by my employer, the tree-and plant-health company Arborjet. But there are other PGRs operating in this space (think Atrimmec or Cutless), and I honestly think our industry has not done a particularly good job explaining what these products can really do for landscape businesses — and their customers.

First of all, I’m not advocating the use of PGRs on a homeowner’s turf. That probably is unnecessary and may indeed disrupt the rhythm of scheduled visits. I’m talking here about shrubs. Traditionally, LCOs have balked at PGRs in this context (or maybe not even considered it, as so few PGRs were labeled for shrubs) because, if you trim a massive hedge using a team of four guys, a PGR application may cost more than paying those four guys to do that pruning.

But here’s the thing: That plant growth regulator allows an LCO to skip a month or two (or three) of subsequent hedge-trimming. That frees up the LCO to deploy those four guys to do something else, something more profitable and productive than trimming back shrubs. What’s more, PGR-treated shrubs also mean less green waste and reduced disposal fees.

In the LCO world, dynamics like these tend to get lost in the churn of day-to-day service, personalized customer relations and new business development. Here’s something else that gets lost: the demonstrable benefits PGRs have on the plants themselves.

Briefly, all these plant-heath inputs work on different areas of the plant; every chemical touches a different amino-acid chain or enzyme. Plant-growth regulators generally affect the chain that ultimately fires the hormones governing shoot growth. The PGR stops that chain from forming, and shoot growth is therefore inhibited.

However, PGR applications don’t mean the laws of thermodynamics just go away. You can’t destroy energy. If the energy inside a plant can’t go toward shoot growth, it redirects elsewhere. Roots get hardier. Cuticles get thicker. The space between nodes on a branch become smaller. Carb stores become larger. Effects vary from species to species, but generally the plant gets hardier, which means you have less problem with disease (like cytospora canker in blue spruce and sycamore anthracnose. Paclobutrazol, the active ingredient in Shortstop 2SC, has been proved effective in fending off both — and alleviating drought stress).

Healthier trees and shrubs are part of what produces happy customers, of course. And referrals!

In short, I think LCOs need to be more strategic about the way they think about PGRs.

Let me give you a specific example: Where I live, in North Carolina — and across the South — anyone who runs a landscape company or maintains a golf course is familiar with loropetulum, also known as Chinese fringe plant. This is not a pest plant but a colorful, popular shrub deployed in many contexts, domestic and corporate, across the region.

It’s also one of the most aggressive, fastest-growing shrubs you’ll ever hope to see. I know landscape companies where they dispatch crews to cut this stuff back four times a year. Then, after three to four years, they often have to just hack the thing down to a manageable size again, because it’s just too hardy to contain.

Several of the PGRs now labeled for shrubs do not include loropetulum, which means they don’t work on the Chinese fringe plant (what’s more, it’s technically illegal to even apply them in that context). Well, Shortstop 2SC does work on loropetulum, as indicated by the new label. That’s big news.

Yes, it’s going to be good for the makers of Shortstop 2SC, but I’m here to encourage LCOs especially to start thinking one or two steps ahead. Don’t fixate solely on how they’ll be containing Chinese fringe plant going forward. Think about all the hours of labor you’ll be saving in doing so. Then think about all the other productive, profitable things your guys can be doing, for your customers, when that problem has been mitigated chemically.


Eric Steffensen is eastern division sales manger for golf, sports turf and nursery for Arborjet. He can be reached at esteffensen@arborjet.com.

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