Controllability is a watchword

Controllability is a watchword for Alan Bretherton, senior grower at Ornamental Plants, one of the UK’s largest bedding plant nurseries, at Tarleton, Lancashire.

“With 9ha of bedding plant production, most of which is grown for supermarkets, being in control is really important to us,” he says. “Almost 8ha of that is under glass, which we aim to keep full all year round, so we produce the whole range of spring and summer bedding in packs and pots as well as later season crops, including cyclamen, and a lot of added-value lines such as planted containers and hanging baskets.”

The company has been using ReduSol to shade its glasshouses for 15 years, opting to switch from the traditional ‘whitewash’ because of the ease with which the coating can be removed at the end of the season.

“It’s controllability again,” he says. “We use a contractor to apply the coating and they have to be booked in advance. We aim for the second or third week in April and we can rely completely on the product being delivered to our deadline.”

The coating is applied to the whole glasshouse area but dilution rates are adjusted to vary the levels of shade over different sections or blocks. “For example, we know where we’ll be producing the cyclamen later in the year so we’ll change the dilution to give these areas a little more shade to protect the plants from the bright warm days you can still get in the early autumn.”

ReduSol can be applied to polythene, too, but Mr Bretherton finds the light diffusing covers that the nursery’s tunnels are clad in keeps the crops that they’re used for cool enough.

“The cooling effect that comes from using ReduSol on the glass gives us control over watering so that we can irrigate each area every two days,” he says. “That not only cuts water volumes overall but it means we can schedule irrigation when the time is right, early or late in the day.

“The effect is particularly noticeable in some of the older blocks of glass where temperatures will reach mid 30°C without shade. The only part of the nursery equipped with screens is the propagation unit. ReduSol has proved so effective we’ve not felt the need to install them anywhere else.”

He adds: “Without shade, we’d need to irrigate the whole crop every day in the summer. Even though we have a large reservoir, accessing enough water at peak periods is always difficult. And with the area we have and the number of different crops we grow, it would simply not be possible to apply enough to each block or section at the right time of the day.

Mr Bretherton says managing crop protection is easier, too. The combination of shade and plenty of ventilation keeps the crop less susceptible to pest and disease attack. Nursery staff can carry out any spraying needed at more convenient times of the day without risking crop scorch, thanks not only to the cooler air but because leaves are protected from direct sunlight.

He says: “We’ve seen no detrimental side effects, such as stretching, from using the coating either. So light levels are still good enough even on dull days.”

Apart from the importance of being able to control the watering, being able to control when the shade is removed is a big advantage with ReduSol, he says. “We aim to remove the coating in October and for the contractor it’s a much quicker job to apply ReduClean than to remove traditional shade coatings – they just spray it on and then we wait for the next rain which washes it clean off.”

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