Using Ice to Protect Outdoor-Growing Plants against Frosts and Freezes

By Dr. Claudio Pasian, Department of Horticulture and Crop Science

The Ohio State University

In the past few years, I have seen more growers using the outdoors to grow certain container crops that do well in cool environments…please continue reading the entire article here: Using Ice to Protect Outdoor-Growing Plants against Frosts and Freezes.

Managing your Latino Workforce, Part II: Learning Spanish

By Dr. Claudio Pasian, Department of Horticulture and Crop Science

The Ohio State University

A greenhouse grower from the South once told me: “If I couldn’t hire Spanish speaking workers, I’d be out of business very fast. In my area that’s the only help I can get”. It seems that only immigrant workers are willing to do many jobs that we Americans will do not do. Most of the comments I have heard regarding Spanish-speaking workers have been very good. However, poor communication skills have frustrated growers with limited Spanish speaking capabilities.

Lack of good communication between workers and their supervisors not only creates inefficiencies but also can be dangerous. Please, keep in mind that language is only part of good communication. Symbols, signs, expectations or behavior — which are all influenced by culture — are an integral part of the communication process.

In this article, I will discuss aspects that deal with the learning of Spanish as well as communication in general of which language is only one aspect.

Should I learn Spanish? Not necessarily. However, if you have to deal with a Spanish speaking workforce, knowing even some rudimentary Spanish can save you many headaches and earn good will.

Is it difficult to learn another language? That depends. Urgency, cultural interest and talent all play a role. For some people, learning languages is relatively easy. If you are like me, you will have to work a little harder than average. Regardless, if you want to, you will learn enough to communicate with your workers. To avoid frustrations, set realistic goals: start by learning a certain number of words and after that try a few verbs, etc. As much as you can, try to make it a fun project.

Is Spanish difficult? Yes and no. If you are a person who likes structured things with clear rules, you will like Spanish. A one letter-one sound system makes reading much easier. Verbs are more difficult than in English. Pronunciation will be a killer at the beginning. For most English speaking people, it’s just as difficult to pronounce the open vowels of Spanish as it is for us nonnatives of English speaking countries to pronounce the English language vowels. Do not despair! Time and effort will take care of the bumps at the beginning of the road.

What is the best way to learn another language? Different people learn in different ways. Find what works for you. Two effortless first steps: if your office is connected to the internet, you can pick a Spanish language radio station and play talk shows (no music) as background throughout the day; you can do the same with CD’s and records of Latin music.  This will allow you develop the ability to distinguish words. Whatever method you choose, be sure to make it fun. Here are some suggestions: take a conversational class; travel to a Spanish speaking country; tapes (bookstore or library); find a tutor (Can it be one of your employees?); TV; make your own tape; get to know your Spanish-speaking employees.

Are there different types of Spanish? Yes, just like New York English and Mississippi English are different from Australian English. These national and regional differences should not be a problem if you learn basic, standard Spanish. Standard Spanish is identical from country to country so everyone can communicate using this form of the language. It is estimated that less than 10% of Spanish may be different from country to country. The only problems encountered may be if slang is used or when people have a heavy accent. Do you have problems understanding someone from New Zealand or England? In my opinion, most of the differences between the Spanish from different regions are at the same level as those from different English speaking countries.

Resources. In addition to the traditional Spanish teaching tools available in bookstores or libraries I suggest you get some of the following:

  • Spanish in the Field. Practical Spanish for Ranchers, Farmers, or Vintners. By C. P. Clough, J.C. Comegys, and J.K.M. Saddler. agAccess Davis, CA. 1990.
  • Ball Floriculture Dictionary. y V. Hoyosde Martens and M.L. NydiaPalma de Villareal Ball Publishing, Batavia Illinois, 1995
  • Thomson’s English/Spanish Illustrated Agricultural Dictionary. By Robert P. Rice, Jr. 1993.
  • WPS video in Spanish. EPA approved and prepared by MSU.
  • Spanish for Greenhouse Supervisors. Claudio Pasian. Ohio State University Extension Publication and CD.

This last one is a collection of word and phrases both in English and Spanish strictly dealing with floriculture terminology. It is sold out at present, but if you need it, please get in touch with me (

Electronic Dictionaries and Technology. This “artificial intelligence” translation, whether by electronic device or internet, cannot convey subtleties of language and only occasionally work by translating word for word (literal). Beware! It is commonly said, “The translator is a traitor”…

Emergency Translations. Some companies offer on-the-phone translation services through bilingual English-Spanish speaking telephone operators. This service is frequently used by hospitals and other public agencies that provide emergency response. The cost varies according to the company.

Communication. Finally, keep in mind that “Communication is a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior”. In other words, how we say something may be as important as the words we use to say it, and this is influenced by culture.






Managing your Latino Workforce, Part I: Cultural Traits and Management Styles

By Dr. Claudio Pasian, Department of Horticulture and Crop Science

The Ohio State University

Who are the Latinos?  Latino is someone of Latin American heritage. Hispanic, on the other hand, means “of Spanish or Latin American background.” For the most part, both terms are used interchangeably. There are no definitive and accurate statistics about the origin of the Latinos working in US horticulture.  These Latino workers come from all over Latin America, but anecdotal information and some surveys indicate that most of them (at least 60%) are from Mexico.

Typically, Latino workers in US horticulture were raised in rural communities in Mexico and are young, and most likely in their 20s most likely.  Most often, they have a basic level of education with no knowledge of the English language or very basic English language skills, and are following a dream.  Some move to the US permanently, others plan to stay here only for a few years to work and to send money back home.

According to A. Saunders, a cross-cultural trainer, “A very big barrier for a new project team where members are from different parts of the world is not language. It is the baggage each team member carries in his/her own cultural suitcase”. We all carry a cultural suitcase containing a set of values. These values originate from the family and country in which we were raised and can be influenced by the organizations we belong to or even the work place. Therefore, to facilitate good communication it is important to have an idea of the cultural baggage or customs of other individuals.

In all my writings and presentations about this topic, I emphasize the importance of going beyond learning Spanish to communicate: learn about the culture of your Latino workers. In that vein, I want to share with you information about cultural traits and management styles I found in a book that should be a “must read” for everyone who supervises Latino workers.  The book is called “Management in Two Cultures. Bridging the Gap Between US and Mexican Managers” by Eva S. Kras.  Intercultural Press, Inc.

This book of only 104 pages is meant to be read by business managers doing business in Mexico.  However, most of the information in it can be applied to any situation in the horticulture industry where Latino workers are involved.  Ms. Kras’ book is based on a series of in-depth interviews she conducted with 72 Mexican and US executives.

In her work, Ms. Kras describes US and Mexican cultural and social traits and then describes, compares and contrasts the different management styles prevalent in the two cultures – without judging them.  This will be my approach while presenting some of her work.  You may agree or disagree with her findings and her interpretation.  What is important is that you consider these terms when trying to improve your communication with your Latino workforce.  Communication is much more than language.  It requires understanding the culture!

What are cultural traits?  Ms. Kras defines them as broad, strong, pervasive, and dominant generalizations about a culture.  Obviously, such traits are not universal because each person is unique.  The reality is that the perfect “typical” American or Mexican does not exist, and because of that, it is important to avoid stereotyping!  We all want to be respected and appreciated as unique beings. The cultural and management traits described in the book are shown below.

Cultural Traits Management Traits
  • Family
  • Religion
  • Education
  • Nationalism
  • Personal Sensitivity
  • Etiquette
  • Personal Appearance
  • Status
  • Aesthetics
  • Ethics
  • Work/Leisure
  • Direction/Supervision
  • Theory vs. Practice
  • Control
  • Staffing
  • Loyalty
  • Competition
  • Training & Development
  • Time Planning

Just as examples, let us choose two Cultural Traits, Etiquette and Personal Sensitivity plus two Management Styles, Supervision and Competition for a brief description.

Etiquette in Mexico. Ms. Kras’ research found that courtesy in Mexico is extremely important.  Mexicans consider courtesy as an indicator of education (“bien educado”) since they assume that good manners are taught in school.  First impressions are very important.  Poor manners (informality that we Americans like so much can be interpreted as such) when people meet can mark the relationship in a negative way for a long time.

In Spanish, the way titles and pronouns are used indicate the level of formality.  It is still common in Mexico to refer to a person of authority using a title such as “Señor” (Sir) or “Don.”  Both “TU” and “USTED” are translated in English as “YOU.”  However, TU indicates that the two people talking know each other well, and are possibly the same age and rank.  USTED is used when there is no familiarity or when rank is involved.  Most likely, a Mexican worker will refer to the boss as USTED.  American supervisors of Latino workers who are learning Spanish are advised to use the USTED, a sign of respect, more than the TU.  It is better to err on the side of formality…

In Mexico, it is common at work to shake hands when workers begin the day.  This is followed by greetings and chitchat about the weather, health, family, etc.  Mexican bosses earn the respect and loyalty of their employees through courtesy and diplomacy. A “good boss” never “toots his own horn” as it would be perceived as bad taste in Mexican culture.

Etiquette in the US. Efficiency is king in the US.  “Let’s get to the point” is the key attitude: “Don’t slow me down with stuff that is not job related.”  When addressing issues, Americans appreciate the “unvarnished truth” and sometimes without much regard to sensitivities on the other side.  Does this mean that Americans are insensitive?  No. It means that unlike Mexicans, Americans are expected to separate their emotions from their work.  Yet, this very emphasis on objectivity can be interpreted as “bad manners” by other cultures.  Outside of work, Americans are as sensitive and warm as anybody else is.  One way some Americans try to show friendliness is though informality.  It is more common in the US workplace to refer to a person of authority by first name instead of Mr., or to tell a joke to break the ice in an effort to establish rapport.  However, for the Mexican employee, this behavior may achieve exactly the opposite effect.

Personal Sensitivity in Mexico. Ms. Kras says it all in one sentence: “Mexicans are extremely sensitive to the world around them and have a marked capacity to empathize with the people with whom they interact”.  They are masters in avoiding confrontation and saving face.  Because of this, they are very sensitive to criticism.  Even at work, constructive criticism may be taken personally.  Never criticize your employees in front of other workers, much less if the employee is also a supervisor!  While face-saving is a human characteristic (found in all cultures), Mexicans have made an art of it to the point that they practice it even when not needed.

Personal Sensitivity in the US. As said earlier, Americans are expected to suppress emotions at work.  Therefore, constructive criticism is not only tolerated but also expected in order to improve efficiency. In the US, to be tough at work is, more often that not, considered a “virtue.”

Supervision in Mexico. Mexicans have great respect for authority.  Orders given by a superior are seldom commented on and much less questioned.  Delegation of authority is not common.  Employees will do as told, no more, no less.  It is the boss’ responsibility to communicate well all that needs to be done and how.  If a mistake is made, with this system it is the boss’ responsibility.  Typically, Mexicans value being part of a group;  work – often carried out along side other members of the extended family – is an extension of the group.

Supervision in the US. Americans place a high value on individualism and in the workplace, the “ideal” employee works independently.  American bosses appreciate being able to delegate authority and supervising workers who like to “take ownership” of the job.  Problems that arise on the job are seen as challenges and it is acceptable to make minor mistakes without loosing the boss’ support.  In fact, meeting these challenges may represent a valued learning experience.

A detailed contrast and comparison of all cultural traits and management styles can be found in Ms. Kras’ book. I strongly recommend that you buy and read it. While reading, consider that these are broad generalizations. If you do not identify with some of the traits and management styles described, that is okay. Most likely, you will be able to recognize these characteristics in some of your fellow Americans. Also, keep in mind that societies in general and people in particular change over time. Doing business with the US and Canada through NAFTA is bringing change to many Mexicans and their business practices. However, this change may be less noticeable in people coming from small towns in rural areas (the source of most Mexican horticulture workers). Also, remember that the poisonous effect of what we call “Hollywood” (the movies) is being felt all over the world and it is changing many traditional cultures – in my opinion, usually for the worst.

Poinsettias on Cruise Control

By Dr. Claudio Pasian, Department of Horticulture and Crop Science

The Ohio State University

Are your poinsettias on “cruise control”?  This is a dangerous time for poinsettias because owners and head growers can become complacent and forget some simple, basic but important cultural practices that contribute to a great poinsettia crop.

“Remember what you already know,” is easy to say.  In reality, you are very busy, and like many of us, take care of the urgencies first, often neglecting the important.  Reading this article should be like going to the doctor for an annual physical exam.  You know what the doctor will tell you before going to the visit:  stop smoking, eat healthy food, exercise, reduce stress, etc.  Do you follow the doctor’s advice?  Going to the doctor helps reinforce the importance of having a healthy lifestyle. Well, with growing plants, it is the same.  It can be difficult to practice all that you know about growing poinsettias.

To have a high quality crop at sales time, many things have to be done right.

To have a high quality crop at sales time, many things have to be done right.

Do you know the idiosyncrasies of the poinsettia cultivars you are growing?   Breeding companies provide a wide selection of cultivars (cultivated varieties) that allow growers to satisfy different sections of their market.  Each cultivar is not only different in its looks but also have different cultural requirements.  How familiar are you with those requirements?  How familiar are your head grower and other key employees?  In the same vein, do you have a good rapport with the person in charge of technical support in the company, which owns the genetics you are growing?  It is never too late to establish good working relationship.

Scheduling.  The multitude of poinsettia cultivars that growers have available nowadays is a blessing to satisfy a variety of customers, but it requires growers to follow different scheduling regimes.  Not doing so may result in poor quality plants.  When to stick, when to pot, when to pinch, when to start short days, and when to ship: a “one size fits all” approach does not work.  You need to know the optimum treatment for each cultivar.

The beginning influences the end.  The quality of your rooted or unrooted cuttings plays a big role in the quality of your final poinsettia crop. If you have stock plants, you are responsible for the quality of the cuttings.  If you buy them, you have to select the company that will provide the high-quality cuttings you need.  What to watch for and control when rooting cuttings: Rooting temperature (72-75°F); adequate mist on the leaves by adjusting it to weather conditions; adequate light levels (1200 – 1500 foot-candles); and watch for Botrytis, Pythium, Erwinia, and fungus gnats.

Poinsettia cuttings being rooted.  This is a critical stage because it will ensure a good start of the poinsettia crop.

Poinsettia cuttings being rooted. This is a critical stage because it will ensure a good start of the poinsettia crop.

The 1-2-3 of poor roots.  One of the keys for a high-quality crop is having good roots.  A variety of factors influence the quality of the roots.  Among them is 1) poor growing mix, with low air porosity that retains too much water.  Compounding this factor is 2) poor irrigation management.  By keeping the growing mix too wet we favor 3) Pythium.  The spores of this pathogen require free water to swim and attack the roots.  As mentioned above, starting the crop with poor quality rooted cuttings may result in a poor root system.  If plants do not have a good root system by the middle of October, little can be done to improve it afterwards.

Temperatures.  Almost all growers know to give their poinsettia plants the appropriate day and night temperatures. However, when was the last time that the temperature sensors in your operation were calibrated?  Are sensors placed close to the plants?  Are sensors protected from direct solar radiation?  Like a car, instruments need maintenance and need to be used properly.

Fertility.  Poinsettias are considered “heavy feeders.”  Fertilizers should be applied at a rate of 150 to 250 ppm nitrogen (N).  More than 75% of that N should be nitrate-N.  When using the pour-through method, electrical conductivity (EC) should be between 2.25 and 3.75 mS/cm. Molybdenum (Mo) is a micronutrient required by all plants. Poinsettias require high levels of this nutrient unlike other plants that require very small amounts.  Growers need to be sure the fertilizer they are using has the right amount of Mo in the formulation.  When Mo deficiency occurs, a corrective action is required.  Drenching with a solution of sodium molybdate or ammonium molybdate at 77 ppm (77 g sodium molybdate or 54 g ammonium molybdate per 100 gallons of water) should correct the problem.

Low levels of calcium (Ca) will favor stem breakage and cause bract burn.  During cloudy, low light level days, calcium does not move in the right amounts into the leaves or bracts. The result will be “bract edge burn” later in the season.  To avoid this problem, growers start using calcium nitrate as a fertilizer and spray bracts with calcium chloride at a rate of 200 – 400 ppm calcium with a spreader sticker.

Fertilizer Injector. Growers should calibrate their fertilizer injectors.  They may need both calibration and replacement of some parts.  As stated above, all equipment requires periodical maintenance.  By the time the grower discovers that an injector is not working properly, it may be too late to achieve a quality poinsettia crop.  Being proactive is very important.

Scout!  Scout!  Scout!  Poinsettias are the ideal crop to prove that “Murphy’s Law” is real.  So many things can go wrong with poinsettias. The only way for growers to be successful is to constantly scout the crop.  Scout for insects and diseases.  This includes looking with a magnifier if necessary at the sticky cards, leaves, stems, and the roots of the plants by removing the pots.

Pythium.  This is a very common problem for poinsettias.  Growers need to apply (drench) a fungicide as a preventative and periodically check the roots.  If symptoms of Pythium are present, more treatments are required. It is common that plants with roots severely infested with Pythium look “normal” (above ground) in the greenhouse.  However, when these plants are moved out of the greenhouse to a more stressful environment, they immediately wilt because they do not have a functional root system to uptake water.

Pests and diseases.  Several pest and diseases can affect poinsettia crops.  That topic is beyond the scope of this article; however, if you experience any problems, please feel free to contact The Ohio State University plant pathologist, Dr. Francesca Hand, at and our entomologist, Dr. Luis Cañas, at canas.4@osu,edu.

Take home message.  Hopefully, after reading this article, poinsettia growers will realize that there is no such thing as a poinsettia crop on “cruise control.”  Too many things can go wrong. Detecting problems before they become advanced is the formula for success.  So, start scouting, follow it by more scouting, and then scout even more


2015 OSU Cultivars Trial Open House

Thursday July 30, 2015

Department of Horticulture and Crop Science

2001 Fyffe Ct.  Columbus, OH 43210

If you missed the opportunity to evaluate our plants during Cultivate 15, do not miss this second chance to evaluate plants responses to a very rainy spring and summer.

10:00 AM: Presentation about the trials

10:30 AM: Tour Cultivar Trials, in Ground & Containers

12:00 Noon:  Box lunch

1:00 to 3:30 PM:  Presentations by three speakers:

  • Bob Croft (Sakata)
  • Pamela Bennett (OSU Extension)
  • Michelle Jones (OSU/OARDC, Wooster)

OCNT, Landscape Industry Certified, and pesticide credits will be available.

Cost:  $15 (before July 11) or $18 (after July 11). This will cover the cost of the box lunch, refreshments, parking permit, and handouts.  Send a check payable to The Ohio State University, attention Claudio Pasian, at the address listed above and call Dr. Pasian at 614-292-9941 indicating the number of participants.

The OSU Cultivar Trials are partially supported with a generous donation from:  Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association and AmericanHort

With your car, come first to the turnaround of Fyffe Court (in front of the main entrance of Howlett Hall) and someone there will give you the parking permit.  Proceed then to park your car and come to 103 Kottman Hall.  

For more information, please contact Dr. Claudio Pasian: