I. Title: Nursery Crop and Landscape Systems
II. Justification: With an average annual growth rate of about 10%, commodity cash receipts for the nursery/landscape industry more than doubled from a vaule of $4.0 billion in 1982 to a value of $8.4 billion nationwide in 1991, making it one of the most robust segments of agriculture. According to Southern Cooperative Series Bulletin 384 (1995), 24 state account for 79% of nursery receipts. Of that group, 11 states in the Southeast account for 33.2% or receipts. Recent Gallup polls show that gardening is one of the top leisure time activities for U.S. consumers and interest in gardening is at an all time high. New germ plasm continues to be discovered or created in the ornamental plant realm. For example, Leyland Cypress is now one of the most popular screening plants in much of the Southeast but was practically unheard of twenty years ago. The ruby-leaved red-flowered loropetalum cultivars are one of the hottest new blooming shrubs in the south but were unknown ten years ago and still are not widely tested. While past growth has been fueled by technological advances, continued future growth of the nursery/landscape industry is being driven to a considerable degree by the introduction of new plant materials such as these. The Southern Plant Conference, a biennial meeting showcasing new plants, has completed its fourth cycle. Attendance increased at each conference, demonstrating widespread continuing interest. In 1996, the Southern Nurserymen's Association featured a "new plant introduction" venue for the first time. Some large nurseries have invested in discovery and development of new plant releases and are using this technique to gain market share. Unfortunately some releases are not widely tested and most have not been independently tested in unbiased trials. Problems have arisen as with some of the new "disease resistant" roses for example. A coordinated plant evaluation system throughout the Southeast could rapidly provide unbiased information on performance and adaptation of selected new introductions, thus benefitting producers and consumers alike.
III. Objective: The objective of the SERA-IEG is to identify, evaluate, select and disseminate information on superior environmentally sustainable landscape plants in nursery crop production and landscape systems in the Southeast. This will be accomplished by implementing the protocol for plant evaluation that was developed by IEG – 63 (attached) to identify superior performers and pinpoint problems. Information gained from the plant evaluation system such as cold hardiness, heat tolerance, growth rate, environmental adaptation limits, etc. will be disseminated collectively and individually to a wide variety of audiences, from scientific articles to industry trade magazines and conferences to extension and popular information channels. This should increase nursery revenues and reduce landscape losses.
IV. Procedural Plan: The protocol that has been developed will be implemented. State representatives and invited guests will meet annually to exchange plant information results, distribute plant material for future evaluation, and select candidates for future evaluation. Plants will be evaluated for not less than three years at participating sites in the Southeast Region. Responsibility for timely reports (at the annual meeting) rests with the evaluator. The introducer will then provide a finished summary to the chair. For each plant that the group judges worthy of regional approval, the chair will appoint a committee to develop and disseminate propagation information and production protocols to the nursery industry. The same committee will compile and distribute landscape use information on the plant to the nursery and landscape industry and to the gardening public.
V. Kinds of Participation in the Activity: Cooperating horticulturists will be responsible for establishing and maintaining evaluation sites in their respective states. As the protocol is written, participation is not limited to the state representative. Horticulturists who nominate new plants for evaluation will be responsible for obtaining or propagating sufficient material for distribution to cooperating evaluation sites, and for collating evaluation results as they come in. Entomologists and plant pathologists may be enlisted to identify insect and disease problems as they arise. The USDA National Arboretum should be a cooperator and a participant in the group. Interfaces may need to be developed with various botanic gardens and arboreta. Agriculture economists may be useful in developing survey instruments to determine the impact of the program. Extension horticulturists and nursery specialists will be invaluable in developing written information about the approved plants as outlined above in the procedural plan. This program will exclude bedding plants and will concentrate on woody ornamentals but may involve herbaceous plants such as perennials, ground covers, or vines that normally move in nursery production and marketing channels.
VI. Duration: This is a long term project. This SERA-IEG should be approved for five years with anticipation for renewal.