DEPARTMENTS


Hedging your bets

By Maria Zampini


At this time of the year you'll find me enjoying "the boys of summer." Each night when I'm home I'll turn on Sports Time Ohio to watch - or more likely listen to - the Cleveland Indians while I'm working at the computer.

During a recent Tribe game a bat shattered. The announcers started talking about bats made from maple versus ash. They mentioned that maple bats break into bigger pieces than ash. I know that Louisville Slugger has ash fields in Pennsylvania to harvest wood for their bats, so I searched online, wondering if perhaps emerald ash borer (EAB) has had a significant effect on the baseball bat industry.

Come to find out EAB was first found in southeastern Michigan near Detroit in 2002, while maple bats were actually introduced in 1996. In fact, approximately 60 percent of the bats used in major league baseball are maple, which is denser and lighter than ash. Half of the Louisville Slugger bats are made from northern white ash, and the rest are maple. Hickory was originally used for bats but it was heavy, and so the manufacturers looked to other, lighter woods. However, other wood is being used and trialed including bamboo, birch, beech and a composite wood. Who knew?

In essence, baseball bat companies changed before they had to. And I suppose there could come a day where there aren't any more bats made from ash due to EAB or other factors such as progress.

But it seems to me that baseball bat producers hedged their bets and didn't stand still. Think of it from a financial perspective. How do you reduce your risk? You invest in a variety of assets. In the production fields or in the landscape we can't afford to overplant a genus or species; instead, we need to continually strive for diversification.

EAB isn't the first pest that has affected our industry, nor will it be the last.

This time last year all anyone could talk about was boxwood blight. It surfaced in the U.K. in the early to mid-1990s; it was first discovered in the United States in 2011 in North Carolina, then spread to Virginia and Connecticut.

This spring we wondered what impact impatiens downy mildew would have on bedding plant sales. This pesky pathogen seemed to decimate this beloved annual literally overnight. If impatiens were no longer available, would consumers plant nothing? Or would they be open to something different? Some retailers acted as though it was the end of the world; others saw it as an opportunity to introduce consumers to other shade-loving plants. Yes, it meant the decline of impatiens sales but, on the other hand, it has increased production and sales of Sun Impatiens, coleus, begonia and caladiums.

One of the newer concerns is rose rosette disease and its impact on shrub roses. While the rose rosette virus was only recently identified, the disease itself affected Rosa multiflora as far back as 1941. Lethal to wild roses, it is also believed to be potentially dangerous to ornamental rose species and cultivars.

Viburnum leaf beetle was first discovered in 1947 in North America in Canada. It was first seen in the northeast corner of my home state of Ohio in 2002; prior to that it had affected parts of Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania and Maine. It can be lethal to certain types of viburnums.

Hemlock woolly adelgid has been known since 1924 to attack Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana) and spruce by feeding on tender shoots, but it took decades for it to be located in the eastern U.S. in Pennsylvania in 1967. It is now in 11 states.

I'm in no way discounting the severity of these diseases and pests. I think that no matter what, it's always something. One needs to consider the ramifications of a "vertical" business as compared to a "horizontal" business. When it comes to customers, you shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket, so perhaps you shouldn't when it comes to plant types, either.

All the above diseases and pests are another reason to be active in your state and national association. You'll be on the cutting edge of knowing about them; their spread, how they can be treated, and so on. It will also allow you to be part of the solution to keeping them at bay or eradicating them, in particular if there needs to be collaboration with local, state or federal officials and agencies. Your involvement in grassroots efforts helps mold how these little buggers are addressed and how your business will be affected.

Maria Zampini is the president of UpShoot LLC. Her company's focus is "living, sharing and supporting horticulture" through new plant introduction representation including LCN Selections. She can be reached at maria@upshoothort.com, and her website is http://www.upshoothort.com.