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Grower Profile: Bluestone Perennials

Bill Boonstra from Bluestone Perennials

Bill Boonstra, owner of Bluestone Perennials.

Located in Lake County, off the shores of Lake Erie in Northeast Ohio, is the small community of Madison, which was formally known as the nursery capital of the world. In 1972, keeping with the area’s horticulture roots, Richard and Patti Boonstra started a mail order perennial operation, Bluestone Perennials.

Richard’s two teenage children helped as the business started to grow. His son Bill acquired 3 years’ experience outside the business and came back in 1983 with his wife Sarah and young family in order to continue to grow the business with his father until his retirement a decade later.

Improving efficiency

From two small, rented glass houses in 1972, Bluestone Perennials has grown to 5 acres of greenhouse production space in which they produce 1400 varieties of perennials, ornamental grasses and ornamental shrubs in 4-inch biodegradable coconut fiber pots.

Using only one container size across all crops has improved efficiency by simplifying inventory of containers, plants, packaging material, etc. Bill designed modular packaging that holds plants in place during shipping, ensuring plants arrive in great condition and provides an appealing presentation for the homeowner.

All flats grown in the greenhouses have radio-frequency identification tags (RFID) that are scanned when entering their staging greenhouse. They are placed on benches with designated slots for each plant cultivar. The RFID tags transmit digital data about the crop type, track inventory and other information back to the reader.

When pulling plants, the plant slot is scanned for invoicing and inventory management. Plants are then packed, boxed, and shipped to homeowners throughout the United States.

Perennials are placed alphabetically for ease of finding.

Perennials are placed alphabetically for ease of finding.

Challenges

There are several challenges with a mail order plant business, such as multiple touch points with homeowners: if an order is not right because a plant is damaged in shipping, is not the right color or dies, the employee must assess the problem with the homeowner and react quickly to fix the problem.

Thousands of small orders must be carefully tracked internally so they do not get lost especially when received in February but won’t be shipped until April. Orders cannot be shipped if the weather is too cold and unexpected snowstorms often delay orders. The shipping window to the customer is narrow, so it is imperative to get the order to the customer when promised.

Packaging line - Bluestone Perennials

Plants are picked and taken to the packaging line for boxing and mailing.

PRO-MIX: The right growing medium

When growing a crop, there are many variables, and the growing medium should not be one of them.

“Being in this industry for [almost] 40 years, I certainly have learned how much I don’t know, I learn it every year. One of the things I have learned is that you want to control what you can. With so many changeable factors impacting every year we sure don’t want our mix to change at all! We like that to be a constant and that’s why we use Premier and their BX brand. Their mix is the same every time and something we can count on!

In the past, Bill used several competitors’ media, but consistency eventually became a problem: “We have used everybody under the sun you can imagine, and we were continually gravitating to whoever gets us the most consistent product!”

Flowers in PRO-MIX growing media

When he considered Premier Tech Growers and Consumer’s PRO-MIX product line, he was looking for a consistent, lightweight growing medium that can dry down quickly, so plants do not rot during shipping to the homeowner. He also wanted a growing medium that would accommodate all the different plants he grew.

After doing trials, he found that PRO-MIX HP BIOFUNGICIDE + MYCORRHIZAE was the best product for his propagation. These plants, along with bare root plants, are transplanted into 4-inch coconut fiber pots using PRO-MIX BX BIOFUNGICIDE + MYCORRHIZAE. “[Premier Tech Growers and Consumers] worked very hard to get us what we needed when we needed it. [They] take all the risk out of it.”

Bill admits using one growing medium for all crops with different watering requirements is a challenge, but multiple growing media did not work and amplified watering differences. Since using PRO-MIX HP BIOFUNGICIDE + MYCORRHIZAE and PRO-MIX BX BIOFUNGICIDE + MYCORRHIZAE, Bill has reduced his need for fungicide drenches to control root disease and has had consistent crop growth and quality. This also reduces his labor costs to apply these fungicides.

When asked about Bill’s experience with Premier Tech Growers and Consumers he said: “Across the board, they are all good people and a joy to deal with. They do what they say they’re going to do. It’s just one thing I know I don’t have to worry about.”

We want to thank Bill Boonstra and his staff for entrusting Premier Tech Growers and Consumers for their growing media needs.

To visit their website: bluestoneperennials.com 

For more information, contact your Premier Tech Grower Services Representative.

BLOE          PEEJ              LAWL

Ed Bloodnick
Horticulture Director
US-South East

JoAnn Peery
Horticulture Specialist
US-Central, Canada-Central

Lance Lawson
Horticulture Specialist
US-West, Canada-West

     
BUET PARS      CHEJ

Troy Buechel
Horticulture Specialist
US-North East

Susan Parent
Horticulture Specialist
Canada-East, US-New England

Jose Chen Lopez
Horticulture Specialist
Mexico, Latin & South America

PRO-MIX® is a registered trademark of PREMIER HORTICULTURE Ltd.

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