How to keep your retail plants pest and disease free?

By Gabrielle Stannus

To keep your retail nursery’s plants pest and disease free, and therefore at their most attractive and saleable, Steve Blyth, Greenlife Industry Australia’s Biosecurity Certification Officer provides some practical tips and resources.

“It used to be drummed into us when we had our little retail nursery that each square foot needed to be making you some money. And if it is not, you have got to get whatever is there out of there and put something in there that's going to make your money,” Steve Blyth says of his family’s former business, “The goal as retailers is to achieve that high turnover, so that space on your sales bench needs to keep generating income.”

Establishing more effective pest and disease monitoring and control procedures will ultimately free up your retail nursery staff for other tasks, e.g. better displaying of stock to make it more saleable to customers. It will also save your business money on labour as you will require fewer staff to pull out weeds. And it will result in better-looking plants that are more attractive to your customers.

Steve provides the following tips and resources to help keep your retail nursery pest and disease free and more profitable.

1. Source your plants from a reputable provider

Only buy plants from an accredited reputable production facility. BioSecure HACCP provides a system that assists production nurseries to manage both endemic common pests confronted daily as well as confirming freedom of quarantine pests or the early detection of exotic plant pests. To gain and maintain BioSecure HACCP certification, a business must be NIASA Accredited and undergo two independent audits on an annual basis to ensure the integrity of their BioSecure HACCP program is maintained.

“Do not let someone else’s pest and disease problem become your problem,” Steve urges retailers, “You should be getting your product from an accredited nursery. Not only that, once you receive this stock, you should be practicing high health in your retail nursery as well.”

2. Manage any onsite issues
Once you receive your stock it is important to maintain it to a very high standard until you get that sale.

Establish a quarantine area
“The first place where you are going to get incursions of any plant pest is right there at the delivery gate,” says Steve. Establish a quarantine/inspection area for stock coming in and make sure that you have a defined inspection procedure for staff to follow. Write it down!

If your retail nursery also grows its own plants, ensure there is a clear delineation between production areas and retail areas of your business and a quarantine procedure that is followed when shifting stock from one area to the next.

Write down pest and disease procedures
Have an established inspection procedure for incoming stock. Procedures are specific to businesses as they detail a set of steps associated to a location. Do not assume that you can simply cut and paste a procedure from another nursery and that it will work for your business.

Steve knows firsthand the importance of written procedures. “From my experiences when with my own production nursery, after 20 years of standing there and saying to people, this is what I want you to do, I started to realise that actually I knew what I was talking about. However, because I had said it so many times over those years, I assumed everyone already knew, so I was missing out some of the key things that I wanted my staff to do. If I had written it down as a procedure, then everybody would have the same instruction and would understand it.”

Monitor your stock
Monitor your stock and record any relevant pest and weed incursion data. These records provide invaluable data to inform immediate management options. When collected regularly, this data will help you to identify patterns and trends regarding pest and weed incursion in your nursery. Remember to train your staff so they know what they are looking for.

Understand the life cycle of pest & weeds
To effectively control a pest or weed, you must firstly understand its life cycle. Once you understand the life cycle, you can then use common language within your team to record information that will be relevant to establish a course of action. Take the case of liverwort (Marchantia polymorpha). It propagates in two ways: Propagules and spores. This pest is an indicator to Steve about how well a nursery business has implemented plant protection procedures and monitoring.

“What I have been observing with some nurseries is that they have liverwort and they think ‘It is okay, it looks a bit messy, but we will be alright.’ And they bring in brand new fresh plants and put them right next door to plants infested with liverwort. And within four or five weeks, the liverwort jumps over and it gets into their new plants and away it goes.”

Where to start?
Greenlife Industry Australia’s Australian Plant Protection Standard contains a section dedicated to the control of Pests, Diseases and Weeds. There you can find the following FREE resources that can be easily adapted to a retail environment.

Pest Identification Tool: A comprehensive online database containing a range of images and information to assist in identification and management of pests. Follow the link above to set up an account.

Pest and Disease Fact Sheets: Covering prominent pests and diseases such as Fungal Leaf Spot, Powdery Mildew, Scale Insects and Thrips.

Pest and Disease Management Plans: Highly detailed guides on the management of specific pests or diseases, ranging from Aphids to White Fly.

Pest Management Plan template: This Excel template enables you to capture pest-specific information, e.g. name, significance, lifecycle, and then develop an integrated pest management plan.

Pest and Disease Contingency Plans: Threat-specific contingency plans to assist in the event of an incursion.

E-learning Portal: Online courses covering relevant industry issues such as biosecurity, technical programs and retail workshops.

Crop Monitoring Procedure: This 5-minute video can help you prepare your own procedure to monitor your nursery plants.

FMS Business Search: Find businesses accredited under the Nursery Production Farm Management System.

Need more help?
For further information contact your state or territory association or Greenlife Industry Australia on 02 8861 5100 or