How Do Nurseries Grow Plants So Fast?


On every visit to the nursery, it seems they have the most radiant, colorful, and blooming flowers throughout the year. How do they do this?

Ultimately, nurseries are a business, so they need to maintain their stock in top condition for sale. So, they must implement practices and systems to keep their plants looking their best. And you might be here wondering how you can use similar methods in your garden.

Nurseries need to be able to grow and propagate plants rapidly to be able to supply stock to retailers. The practices that nurseries adopt to grow plants and flowers quickly include:

  • Watering plants regularly
  • Using climate-controlled greenhouses
  • Pruning frequently
  • Disposing of dying plants quickly
  • Using well-composted soil and slow-release fertilizers
  • Eradicating pests and diseases swiftly
  • Designing nursery layout strategically

You can put some of these nursery practices into play immediately, while others will require an investment (e.g., building a greenhouse).

Let’s look at each activity that nurseries do to ensure they have plants and flowers growing fast!

Nurseries Water Plants Regularly

Small- to medium-sized nurseries will likely have a watering schedule for staff to upkeep their plants. As different plant species have varying watering needs, it makes sense for nurseries to have a timetable of when to water specific plants.

To automate the watering process for nurseries, they may have overhead sprinkler irrigation systems. These are commonly used in container nurseries because they are reliable and low maintenance.

Another watering system nurseries may use is micro-irrigation.

Micro-irrigation is a low-pressure, low-volume irrigation system that targets the root zone of plants. It delivers water slowly over time for longer and works great for fruit and vegetable crops.  

The greenhouse of my local nursery.
They have sprinklers along the metal poles above the plants.

In larger-scale nurseries, they may hire engineers to achieve a uniform and efficient irrigation system. If properly designed, maintained, and operated, all plants within a zone should receive nearly the same amount of water. Uniformity of water distribution is critical for even plant growth and to avoid overwatering plants in a zone’s “wetter” areas.

Nurseries Use Climate-Controlled Greenhouses

Nurseries have greenhouses that have systems to control environmental conditions optimal for plants. Using greenhouse thermometers and hygrometers allows nurseries to monitor temperature and humidity – two critical variables in plant development.

Automatic vent openers are also common in these greenhouses to allow hot air to escape and air circulation. The vents open and close automatically depending on whether the greenhouse needs to release heat buildup or retain heat.

Greenhouses play an essential role in stabilizing weather fluctuating weather conditions. This is particularly important for plant species sensitive to changing temperatures and light levels.  

For example, in my experience, the Tradescantia Nanouk is susceptible to brown spots when humidity levels are too low and excessive exposure to sunlight. Growing these plants in a controlled greenhouse would achieve beautiful purple colors without the brown burns.

Nurseries Prune Regularly

Nurseries keep plants flowering by pruning regularly. Pruning stimulates lateral shoot growth by limiting the number of shoots and buds.

Since the amount of plant material is restricted, it allows the plant to update water and nutrients to the remaining shots and promotes a flush of new growth. The regrowth usually occurs near the cut.

For example, peace lilies typically go dormant over the fall and winter. These plants should be cut back during the colder seasons to conserve energy. Once spring arrives, peace lilies produce new shoots, including its iconic white flowers.

Pruning also stimulates the growth of the lateral shoots by allowing more light to penetrate through the plant’s canopy. This is particularly important in woody trees to produce fruit and nuts. Dead leaves and branches must be cut back to improve the overall fruit quality.

During the pruning process, nurseries will remove unwanted weeds before they spread too quickly. Weeds need to be addressed as soon as possible because they take up nutrients from the soil.

Nurseries Dispose of Dying Plants Quickly

Nurseries eliminate dying plants as soon as possible to free up space for new stock and healthy plants.

It’s common practice for businesses to mark down prices substantially for yellowing plants. Nurseries often place these plants in a clearance corner. This maintains the overall presentation of the nursery store.

A nursery staff is replenishing stock at Bunnings Warehouse.
They always seem to stock more plants than they can sell.

Nurseries must also dispose of dying plants to eliminate potential pests spreading to neighboring plants. Aphids are highly mobile and rapidly travel from one plant to another. Similarly, spider mites crawl from plant to plant and reproduce quickly.

Nurseries Use Well-Composted Soil and Slow-Release Fertilizer

Nurseries like to use slow-release fertilizers to keep their plants looking fresh as long as possible.

Slow-release fertilizers save time and labor in managing a plant’s longevity. This is particularly important in nurseries where thousands of plants need to be maintained.

Slow-release fertilizers also save nurseries money because the nutrients are released gradually with time. This eliminates extra applications that would otherwise be needed for liquid fertilizers. 

By spreading the nutrient release for longer, nurseries can keep their plants looking fresh for longer.

Nurseries love to use slow-release fertilizers to keep their plants fed for longer.

Nurseries Eradicate Pests and Diseases Quickly

As nursery staff inspects plants daily, they quickly spot abnormalities and address them immediately.

Pests and diseases can spread quickly in nurseries because the plants are in close proximity to each other.

According to Forest Pathologist Ronald Kisekka, the most common pests present in nurseries include:

PestImpact
Defoliators (e.g., leaf beetles)These insects feed on leaf tissue, causing a large amount of missing foliage and browning of leaves.  
Sap-Sucking Pests (e.g., aphids)These insects suck liquid material from leaves, stems, roots, and flowers.   Affected plants will have discolored and curled leaves.  
Gall forming PestsInfestation of insects, mites, and fungi causes unusual plant growth, developing abnormal cell division. This can cause branches to fall off.  
Root Feeding Pests (e.g., termites)Insects that feed on the roots of seedlings for its fibres.   They’re most damaging in nurseries where trees have small and fragile roots.  

To manage these pests, nurseries may use several techniques, such as:

  • Crop sanitation.
  • Destroying severely infested seedlings by burying or burning.
  • Application of white oil formulation to repel aphids and other honeydew-secreting insects.
  • Use of neem oil
  • Hand-picking when pests are in low numbers.

Nurseries take a preventative pest approach to ensure their plants look fresh and healthy.

Designing Nursery Layout Strategically

The layout of nurseries is carefully thought out to ensure plants are in the right lighting conditions for optimal growth. For example, fruit trees and evergreens are usually placed outside for a full day’s worth of sun.

This is the outdoor section of Flower Power (Australia, Milperra) nursery.
These plants are Australian natives that love the full sun.
Behind is the greenhouse.

Plants that are sensitive to sunlight are kept under shade nets. They’re cost-effective, easy to install, and protect young plants.

And even the floor layout is planned out to maximize sales. For instance, the nursery entrance is usually landscaped with attractive and organized plants to provide customers a good first impression.

By creating an uplifting vibe upon entry, customers are more likely to purchase, which helps the nursery get stock out of the door. It follows that new stock can fill the new spaces, giving customers the impression that plants are always fresh and seemingly growing fast.

To Summarise…

Nurseries use various systems and techniques to manage weather conditions for optimal plant growth. To keep plants looking lush, nurseries use controlled greenhouses and efficient irrigation systems. Nursery staff also play an important role by pruning regularly and getting rid of dying plants. All of these factors contribute to nurseries being able to grow plants beautifully and quickly.

Sources

AskthePlantician

Hi I'm Mike, a self-proclaimed plantician (an invented profession to describe a plant enthusiast). Based in Sydney Australia, I enjoy the great outdoors and the greenery things around the garden, in particular, indoor climbing plants.

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