Growing for color

by Sally Colby

Jennifer Moss practically grew up in a greenhouse, but didn’t even dabble in gardening until she returned to the family business after college. As a fourth-generation family member at Moss Greenhouses and Plantscaping, her late return is probably due to a rule Jennifer’s father had for his children who wanted to come back to the family business.

“We had to leave and go far enough away that we couldn’t come home to do laundry,” said Jennifer, explaining her father’s rule. “We had to work for someone else before we came back, and we had to want to come back — it couldn’t be our last option.” Jennifer said she and her brother Dewey both found that when they entered the workforce, the integrity they were raised with wasn’t always the norm.

Moss Greenhouses originated when Jennifer’s great-grandfather Ed Adams purchased a farm property in 1940. Ed was a creative handyman and converted old school busses into campers. “Every winter, he drove down to Central America and went fishing,” said Jennifer. “He loved the plants there so much that at the end of the trip, he filled the bus up with as many as he could and took them to his little office.”

Ed eventually became one of the premier orchid growers in the country, and started delivering orchids and potted plants to grocery stores. When Ed’s son DeWitt moved back to the farm, Ed told him the region needed a wholesale bedding plant grower. “Stores needed a place to purchase plants they could then sell to the public,” said Jennifer. “My grandpa started building greenhouses and my grandmother filled them as quickly as he put them up. That’s how Moss Greenhouses got started.”

Although Moss Greenhouses started as a wholesale grower, they now sell retail. “My grandmother was bent over planting a whiskey barrel and people were coming in every door,” said Jennifer, explaining how the retail aspect began. “That was in 1972, and it grew from there. If my grandmother was on the phone with you and she told you it was pretty, you bought it.”

Today, Moss Greenhouses includes 380,000 square feet of production space under roof, with additional outdoor growing facilities. “We grow on about ten and a half acres at our Jerome facility, heated with natural gas,” said Jennifer. “We lease another facility that has geothermal heating.” The leased facility includes 20 hoop houses on two and a half acres. Jennifer said because her father and grandfather are both engineers and embrace technology, Moss has incorporated as much automation as possible throughout the facility.

Dewey is the facilities manager and order-processing manager, and Jennifer is responsible for a variety of tasks in the business. “I’m in sales, I oversee marketing and do back-up in a couple of departments for training on equipment,” she said. Jennifer added that her bachelor’s degrees in communications and public relations have been useful to the business.

“Our parents never pushed us to study within the industry,” said Jennifer. “We were never expected to get a horticulture degree. They wanted us to do what we wanted and not force us to get involved in the company. We brought different skills back to the company.” Jennifer said while there’s a lot of value in a horticulture degree, the skills can be learned and employees can be trained to work within the system.

Moss’s specialty is hanging baskets, and they turn out more than 43,000 hanging baskets every season for both wholesale and retail. Hanging baskets produced at Moss are quite different from most. “We don’t grow in plastic,” said Jennifer. “We grow in fiber pulp — it has a deeper soil volume that keeps roots healthier in hot weather and helps retain moisture so the plant can survive temperatures of 100 degrees during the day. Our baskets seem to last the whole season, depending on the care the customer provides.”

The first factor in determining what goes into baskets is Idaho weather conditions. “We are an extreme climate with very high light levels, and we’re high altitude desert with extreme winds,” Jennifer explained. “When we select plants for hanging baskets, we have to factor those things in — we are ultimately thinking of the customer’s success. We want the basket to be beautiful for them all season. We test the varieties and make sure whatever we select has the appropriate growth pattern, that it will stay even in the container and come over the sides nicely, that the combos are ideal and work for our area.”

Moss ships to seven states from their southern Idaho location, each of which have different elevation and weather considerations. Jennifer said plants grown for early markets often differ drastically from those grown for later markets. “Some areas like color mixes, some like solid colors,” she said. “We have to factor that in too. We test every variety, and also make sure we like it and that our customers can honestly say whether or not they liked it.”

When it comes to selecting colors, Jennifer said everyone on the Moss team works together and management makes the final decision. Jennifer noted that there are trends and popular species that hit a peak, and cited succulents as a good example. “We went from 600 flat production in 2016 to 6,000 flats in 2017 and they sold out,” she said. “We carry more than 70 different varieties of succulents.”

Jennifer said that perennials grown at Moss are suitable for zone 5 or lower so they can survive a potentially tough winter. “We have to test everything before we bring it to market,” she said. “We trial it in our own gardens at the facility. Customers dictate what’s popular, and we’re always keeping an eye on industry magazines, catalogs and what breeders are bringing out. We try to make it out to field trials when we can.”

Moss Greenhouses acquired Plantscaping, a local interiorscaping company, which adds another aspect of growing to the company. “Deb the PlantLady needed to stage plants, bring them back, hospital them, source them in and keep them going,” Jennifer explained. “She installs and maintains interior plants in places like hospitals, banks and accounting firms. We started to understand how important interior plants are to a space when everyone is stuck in an office with no connection back to nature. Bringing plants back to the space increases worker retention and increases attendance.”

Moss’s retail season is short, and runs from the second Saturday in March to the second Saturday in July. Jennifer explains the reason for the four-month season is because Moss supplies local establishments that are open year-round and Moss doesn’t want to compete with them. “We give them plenty of opportunity to make a profit without competing with them,” said Jennifer. “We are the most expensive guy in town, but we’re also the grower so you get top quality if you come to us.”

Like any business, Moss faces challenges, but the employee-owned company meets them head-on. “Our biggest challenge is cultivating that next customer,” said Jennifer. “They aren’t the same as in the past. They aren’t grandma and grandpa planting huge flower beds and vegetable gardens.”

Visit Moss Greenhouses and Plantscaping online at www.mossgreenhouses.com.

2018-03-01T12:01:49+00:00March 1st, 2018|Grower West|0 Comments

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