How good is your water? The quality of this precious resource-both upstream and down-is critical to the health of your business as well as your plants.

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Water, water everywhere no longer is a given in the green industry. As growers across the country face shortages and restrictions on the quantity of water available for their operations, we cannot take for granted the quality of that supply. Propagating and maintaining valuable plants requires large amounts of water, fertilizer and pesticides. Although they’re critical to the development and health of high quality plants, such inputs also increase the potential for both surface and ground water pollution.

Implementing best management practices (BMPs) – or reviewing and updating those already in place – should be part of your overall operations. The three-pronged approach offered here is designed to help you get started or fine-tune your current program.

Stage I includes practices that can (and should) be implemented in any nursery, wherever feasible and no matter the size or age of the operation. Stage II includes practices that require some effort and expertise; it’s recommended for implementation as soon as it’s practical, both physically and financially. Stage III includes BMPs that require substantial investment, commitment and/or advanced training – in short, the ideal. In each stage, three critical areas are addressed: irrigation, fertilization, and pest and pesticide management.

To make the most of your time, the information is presented here in an easy-to-follow, checklist format. Although many of the steps may seem to be a matter of simple common sense, a handy, step-by step guide will ensure that nothing is left to chance when your staff is juggling multiple tasks.

Mike Schnelle is professor and extension ornamentals/floriculture specialist in the Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture at Oklahoma State University, where he developed the publication “Water Quality Handbook for Nurseries.” He can be reached at

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