When planning a second turn of ornamental grass production, it’s important to pay attention to factors that have changed since your first production run. These can be either obstacles to overcome or positive changes ready to be taken advantage of.

Weather conditions will likely be warmer; houses opened, or you may be growing outside now. This is perfect for ornamental grasses, as they generally like full sun and the wind in their leaves, something that can be a challenge in a closed up greenhouse environment. You may be able to take advantage of cheaper outside production space with good growing conditions. You may be growing in open greenhouses, or you may be out of inside space and, out of necessity, producing outside. Every nursery is different, and only you know your options, but stepping back and looking at the best way to make your options work for you will pay off in the long run.

One of the most important things to nail down is the finish time needs and options you have to manipulate finish times. Whether you’re following through with a scheduled second turn or trying to up your production in response to good sales, there’s a good chance you will be looking for a faster finish time to meet demand before the sales window closes.

Slow-release fertilizers will be releasing faster, and hopefully sunlight will be more intense and plants will be finishing faster. Count on shaving a couple of weeks off your finish time from the first round of production. What happens if that couple of weeks you may save doesn’t quite get you to your finish date?

Emerald Coast Growers

Resist the temptation to up fertility rates with ornamental grasses to speed up finish times. While your grasses will grow faster, it can lead to several problems. Soft, leggy growth can result in leaves that are more susceptible to any number of fungal leaf spots, which can ruin the salability of a grass crop. You can also end up with a tall plant that falls over, is hard to ship, and doesn’t look good sitting in the garden center trying to convince someone to take it home with them. Staying with medium level fertility rates will help avoid these problems.

With ornamental grasses in particular, you can have a big impact on finish time by changing your input size. A 128- or 72-liner in a trade gallon might take 10 to 12 weeks to finish, whereas a 21-liner might finish in eight weeks. The extra cost you put into the larger liner can be the difference between finishing a crop on time or being stuck with a crop that came ready after your sales window.

A faster finish time frame can limit the selection of plants to choose from. Stay away from slow-growing varieties or cool-weather varieties that might slow down as temperatures rise. Warm season grasses like Panicum, Pennisetum and Miscanthus will be fast growing and quick to finish. Sticking with reliable grasses you’re familiar with helps remove some question marks when you’re growing on a tight schedule.

Josiah Raymer is head grower and general manager for Emerald Coast Growers, one of the country’s largest ornamental grass and perennial producers. www.ecgrowers.com