by Ellen Wren
The Plantsmen Nursery, in Groton, NY, just outside Ithaca is a family owned, no spray nursery and landscape business. Owners Dan and Sarah Segal bought the business in 2006. From the start they have had clear goals. “We have focused on three things: sustainable growing methods, native plants and high quality landscape installations”, Dan explains. “With that focus we have grown in the business about 700 percent in 10 years.”
The Segals manage approximately 3 to 4 acres in production, which includes the retail nursery and growing land. They do not use any chemical applications on their plants and grow all their vegetable seedlings in accordance with organic practices — however they are not certified organic. Dan explains that though preventative spraying programs are standard in the industry, he has found his plants do very well without any chemical treatments whatsoever. He feels that chemical treatments can cause stress and inhibit healthy growth in some species. The main issues the nursery has faced are quite manageable: aphids and a bit of damping off in seedling trays. Both issues can be dealt with in chemical-free ways.
For others in the industry wishing to reduce their use of chemicals, Segal suggests beginning by slowly eliminating components of your spray program and observing the results. Another suggestion for moving toward more sustainable practices is heating the plants less. The upside to this is that they are acclimated to where they’re being sold.
Dan is a National Board Member of Wild Ones, an organization dedicated to the conservation and appropriate use of native plant species. He is also a founder of the Ithaca Native Landscape Symposium, a gathering attended by over 100 people each winter, from landscape architects to garden hobbyists. It aims to share knowledge and ideas promoting the use of plant species native to central New York. Dan’s commitment to making native plants available and promoting them within the industry is clear. The nursery has what may be one of the largest selections of native species in New York State, with the majority propagated in-house. He has collected and propagated over 1,000 plant species.
Dan’s appreciation for a well thought out landscape design began with what he thought would simply be a summer job more than 20 years ago. From that work grew an appreciation for improving a space with native plant species. Since that time, he has worked in many habitats and on large-scale projects such as state parks and universities. “Those projects that seem novel or unusual are in fact very straightforward for us.” he explains.
Landscaping with native plants has become more a sought after approach in recent years due to a growing awareness of the many advantages it provides. Benefits include lower maintenance, less water usage, and the creation of habitat that attracts pollinators. Native plants are hardy to their areas and have deeper roots, which help prevent soil erosion and absorb excess rainfall.
The nursery has seen impressive success in its 10 years under the Segals’ ownership.
The Segals attribute hard work, experience and passion for the industry as some of the keys to success, explaining, “Our key staff has over 100 years of combined experience. We all love this field or we’d be doing something else.” At The Plantsmen Nursery, an effort is made to have an industry veteran on duty at all times, both in the shop and on landscape jobs. Dan also deals directly with all his landscape clients and does all the estimates himself. Of course this personal attention limits the number of projects that can be taken on each year, but excellent customer service is an important factor for the nursery. Clear, correct and prompt communication is essential to Segal, and he feels quick response time to emails and calls, as well as honest and realistic suggestions to be an essential ingredient for all aspects of his business. The Plantsmen also offers the public opportunities to learn more about gardening via their nursery tours, seedling demonstrations and other educational events offered.
Community presence, beyond the symposium, includes hosting school field trips, visiting local schools and donating time, knowledge and plants to community organizations. Segal hasn’t jumped on the social media bandwagon much. He doesn’t feel that it brings in new customers. However, the nursery website has warm and friendly biographies for staff members, lending a welcoming and approachable feel to the business.
A friendly environment, fair, mid-range pricing and vast knowledge, a commitment to the community that supports the business and a quest to share and gain knowledge in the field seem to have served The Plantsmen Nursery well. The Segals have managed to uphold their three primary objectives and build a successful business while remaining true to their vision.