Hort Biz Gets Even Greener in ’08


by Susan
This recent post lauded Garden Center Magazine’s focus on sustainability in the new year and complained that since the mag isn’t on line, we’d miss it.  Well, not to worry!  The first article, "We Really Can Recycle Horticultural Plastics" featuring three successful pot recycling programs, IS available in pdf via that link.  And in other news of the same excellent project, they also launched the Project Green Industry blog.  It’s the one place that growers and retailers can find all the magazine’s sustainability articles, but in even more depth than in print, including interview notes, trends and news.  Just add reader comments and you’ve got a forum going on these important subjects.  It’s a great example of a magazine using the Internet to enhance the printed product.

When editor Carol Miller wrote to tell me about their new blog I naturally asked for an interview so I could pick her brain about all this.  Seems that the sustainability situation is "chaotic" right now in the U.S. industry, especially around the writing of standards for growers.  Should they have to give their employees paid maternity leave in order to get the highest rating?  And if GMO plants are to be banned, how should that be defined?  To include all hybrids?  And who should be writing the standards, anyhow?  Here’s Carol’s article about the controversy on Open Register, with insider details about Veriflora and EcoOptions from her very confidential source.

More news from Carol:

  • Many Canadian municipalities have banned the use of pesticides on ornamental plants, unless the homeowner can prove there’s an infestation.  So why are they ahead of us?  The suppliers there aren’t as powerful as they are here in the U.S.  (Will we EVER figure out how to take money out of politics?  Sigh.) 
  • Europeans follow the MPS standards for sustainability, which are proving to be quite effective, with the giant Ikea buying plants only from growers with the highest MPS rating. Input from the grower community helped make these standards so good.
  • When Carol mentioned cracking down on pot volume I did a mental double-take, thinking the new hort rules were somehow connected to the War on Drugs.  But no, the crackdown is on compliance with ANSI standards for container size, so we won’t be hearing about it on the talk shows after all.  And an even bigger pot issue is about how to recycle them, with ELLE plugs [pdf] made of paper and lycra showing promise.
  • I was awfully impressed with a garden center near me that’s almost 100 percent organic and asked if she’s seeing much movement toward that nationally.  On the West Coast, yes, where we’d expect it, but they recently did a Green Trends survey of 209 garden centers and 55 percent said they were "passionate" about going organic.  And SOME of them must be right-coasters, maybe even no-coasters!


  1. I tried to find the info on the Canadian municipalities requiring you “prove” an infestation before treating with pesticides. Couldn’t find it but my question is, what type of pesticides? Does this include insecticidal soap which is a pesticide? How much of an infestation do you have to have before you can spray? How do you prove it, call and wait for some representative from the city to show up? I do not think more government regulations are good for gardening.

    Here is the scariest part of governments involvement. Who decides? Most people are so divorced from the realities of the outside world that to have those people coming up with rules is scary. GMO = Hybrids? This is silly talk, yet I have heard it from a couple of customers. I had to go through quite a discussion to convince a customer that an “Early Girl” Tomato is not a GMO because its a hybrid.

    Be very concerned about the government getting involved in our gardening. One persons edible, a grape vine blocking the view the neighbors house, could be construed as an ornamental. I think you folks just did a post on a couple who trimmed their trees for safety and we’re fined over 300,000 dollars by the municipality. http://www.gardenrant.com/my_weblog/2007/12/i-was-pregnant.html

    Invite the government into your home and yard and you will have a guest forever, and they don’t help rake the leaves.

  2. Trey, thanks for the reality check. You’re right, of course, but it’s so frustrating because we all want to DO something about everything.
    For good regulations to get written, it takes lots more people getting involved than just the highly emotional, single-issue folks. It took a hurricane in my town to get regular folks to speak up about wanting to be allowed to remove diseased trees that pose a danger to them.
    So let’s hope any new regs for hort products include input from sources like garden centers, growers, and consumers, not just experts in plastics or plant genetics or whatever.

  3. Trey,
    Sometimes the kids need parental oversight because they behave so badly .
    Of course there are those who overstep their boundaries, on both sides of the common sense fence, but I have come to find that in most cases the laws were set up to help us protect ourselves from ourselves.

    Some see it as restrictivism while others see it as protectivism.

    Politicians don’t sit around thinking up new laws to pass. They act when there is public outcry.
    That outcry has to come by in strength of numbers.

    I hate the fact that I have to call the county agricultural inspector every time I receive a plant order that came in from another county. It is a pain in the arse and makes my life inconvenient for a couple of hours.
    But when you consider their inspection is helping to protect a viable economic sector of our California economy ( the viticulture, horticulture and agriculture industries ) against the spreading of several specific insects that can infest and kill our crops and sources of employment, I can let the government in to do their jobs.

    I like California wine, and want to keep on drinking it.
    So I diligently call the county ag inspector, move my landscape crew onto another job while we wait for him/her to show up and inspect the plants for the glassy winged sharp shooter bug.
    What’s a few inconvenient hours of waiting when their is Cabernet at stake ?

  4. Here is the definition of a GMO from Wikipedia:

    A genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These techniques are generally known as recombinant DNA technology. With recombinant DNA technology, DNA molecules from different sources are combined in vitro into one molecule to create a new gene. This DNA is then transferred into an organism and causes the expression of modified or novel traits.


    The key here I believe is that the new DNA is added in vitro- which means out of the plant- in a petri dish. It also seems as if the new DNA in GMO plants is not coming from other plants, it is coming from animals.

    Is there really a debate about what is a GMO? I do not know. I also do not think any are for sale at the nurseries, at least at the momement. This would seem to be a good time to ban them, so they are never developed- the Round Up ready Rose or something.

  5. Okay, I was researching more to find out if it was always an animal gene spliced with a plant gene- such as the Flavr-Savr tomato. I cannot find that info. I am thinking that they may just tinker with genes sometimes an not always splice.

    Here is a link with a definition- but it from the UK. I imagine the US definition is similar. Scroll down a little to the FAQ to see from where I cut and paste.

    Q: Isn’t GM just an extension of traditional breeding practices?

    A: No – GM bears no resemblance to traditional breeding techniques. The government’s own Genetic Modification (Contained Use) Regulations admit this when it defines GM as “the altering of the genetic material in that organism in a way that does not occur naturally by mating or natural recombination or both”.

    Traditional breeding techniques operate within established natural boundaries which allow reproduction to take place only between closely related forms. Thus tomatoes can cross-pollinate with other tomatoes but not soya beans; cows can mate only with cows and not sheep. These genes in their natural groupings have been finely tuned to work harmoniously together by millions of years of evolution. Genetic engineering crosses genes between unrelated species which would never cross-breed in nature.


  6. The problem with making new rules is that you then have to have someone to enforce them. That means more employees paid by tax dollars and no one wants higer taxes. Plus they have to be trained. Then if the government does have staff to do the inspection you have to get other branches of the government involved to inforce the rules (police, who would rather be chasing drug dealers) and then get the courts to take it seriously. Maybe it is just a “no-coaster” problem (though technically Ohio is a “north coast” state (Lake Erie).

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