Obra Verde Growers, located in sunny, dry Southern California, is no stranger to water conservation. In fact, the nursery’s focus on producing solely drought-tolerant liners raises the stakes.
“We have to be sure that we do not overwater, because a lot of these
Obra Verde is a wholesale liner operation that propagates 100 percent of its more than 100 varieties in 38-cell
“Most everyone we sell to turns around and finishes them in 1s, 3s, 5s for the industry,” Walker says. “They are fairly tolerant to temps, extremes
The company works with its own line of plants as well as different breeders, running trials for companies like PlantHaven and Star Roses and Plants.
Whether it’s their own varieties or the breeder trials, everything must be drought tolerant. Obra Verde keeps moisture levels extremely low, both to test the plants and to conserve water. In the last year, Walker has experimented with a WaterPulse capillary irrigation system, and he’s been quite pleased with the results. The WaterPulse system is designed to maintain plants in containers, ranging from large, single-plant containers to propagation trays. The key feature of capillary action is that the soil will only draw up as much water as it can use.
In a trial based in one of Obra Verde’s greenhouses, Walker immediately noticed a 50 percent reduction in water use. But that was just the beginning.
“When you’re saving water, you’re also saving the time and labor of watering by hand,” Walker says. “You’re seeing a 75 percent increase in savings in labor because someone turns the valve on, comes back 15 minutes later and shuts it off instead of standing there with a hose and watering for 20 minutes per bench. It’s been quite a savings for us.”
In addition to saving on water and labor, plant health has improved on benches with the WaterPulse mats. Walker says the way water is brought up through the plants via the capillary action has reduced the frequency of waterborne diseases. He’s cut fungicide usage and says his staff is doing a lot less drenching and
Obra Verde has noticed a few unexpected benefits, as well. For instance, in areas where the nursery was still
“Where we were using the mats, we have no weed problem at all,” he says. “I didn’t even notice until we were a
Obra Verde sprays on a preventive basis, not curative. The nursery typically sprays the crop, walls and below the benches — everything. In areas where the WaterPulse mats have been installed, they have been able to eliminate spraying under benches.
Walker has also noticed improved uniformity. To be sure, his staff doesn’t have to work as hard to achieve even growth as they would with overhead irrigation.
“On a bench, I’ll have 15 to 20 different varieties,” Walker says. “They all are getting the same amount of water, and their growth is very even per variety compared to overhead watering. We’re also finding there are no dry spots. It’s 100 percent moist when it draws up from the base. You’re not seeing the splashing you sometimes get with overhead watering.”
He also says his liners are finishing 25 to 30 percent faster on benches equipped with WaterPulse mats. Because the plants never go into stress from underwatering or disease, they constantly have what they need.
“You can take the tensiometer and do readings from one end to the other and they all read the same,” he says. “You do that with a hose or
Incorporating the mats into his growing operation was easy. Walker says he spent about 30 minutes per bench for the install and setup. The benches don’t need to be 100 percent level; the water still goes where it needs to go. Filtering the system before setup is an important step that can save
“Any time we can get a faster finish time or cut down on labor in any way, that is all very important,” he says. “Water use has gone way down. All of those factors add up to profits.”