Operating from a 25acre site near Dublin, Tully Nurseries is on target to produce well over a million plants this year for the Irish and UK markets - grown in ICL’s Levington Advance Solutions 35% peat-reduced sustainable growing media.
Tully Nurseries supplies landscape contractors, garden centre, DIY and supermarkets with quality plants in 1 to 5 litre pots. As well as 110 independent Irish garden centres, the thriving nursery supplies leading DIY and accessories stores Woodie’s, several supermarket multiples and a number of leading UK nurseries.
Alongside Hebes and Lavenders - the wide production base includes 600 plus varieties of perennials, cordylines, grasses and phormiums - as well as alpines and potted bulbs. Production has grown by over 30% since 2019, with plants produced under the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Programme and predominantly marketed under the Bella Bloom and Winning Plants approved brands.
Managing Director Padraig Tully is the second generation to run the business – originally established in the 1970s to grow plants for the family’s landscaping business. Prior to 2021, the nursery had always produced plants in 100% Irish peat.
“The Irish growing media supply market has changed dramatically over the past 18 months,” says Padraig. “Despite these challenges, and the pandemic, working with ICL we initially transitioned our whole production programme to 25% peat-reduced mixes in February 2021. The switch proved seamless and, following trials, we are now 35% peat reduced across our whole site. We’re delighted ICL now has a production base in Ireland.”
Peat reduction trials at Tully Nurseries, near Dublin, in April 2022.
Last winter Tully Nurseries carried out further commercial trials growing 6,000 2litre Hebes and Lavenders in 50% peat-reduced Levington Advance and a further 6,000 in peat-free Levington Advance Sustain mixes.
“Both species are highly susceptible to fungal diseases, such as Botrytis and Mildew,” explains Padraig. “To minimise disease pressure, we time irrigation events carefully and aim to keep the relative humidity in the multi-span tunnels as low as possible to help eliminate wet foliage at night.
“At the trial outset we had some initial concerns that the increased water application, associated with sustainable growing media mixes, could heighten the disease pressure. However, these concerns to date have proved unfounded - the results have been very positive. The Hebes and Lavenders have performed well with no noticeable increase in disease levels. Both ICL’s sustainable mixes contained the full rate of H2Gro water management granules, which no doubt played a valuable role.
“The plants grown in the Levington Advance Sustain – a mix of coir, bark and Fibagro Advance – grew slightly less vigorously producing a more compact habit, which can be an advantage when it comes to shelf-life.”
From left to right: Hebes grown in peat free Levington Advance Sustain, 50% peat-reduced
Levington Advance & current mix - 35% peat-reduced Levington Advance growing media.
Tully Nurseries’ management team is working closely with Brendan Howell, who joined ICL from Bord na Mona in a new role as Sales Development Manager for Professional Horticulture in Ireland at the start of 2021. Brendan is supported by Andrew Wilson (ICL Technical Manager for Fertlizers) and Stuart Gammage (ICL Technical Manager for Growing Media).
“When developing our sustainable mixes, the ICL team looked closely at the whole nutrition and water management package, taking into consideration many factors including the local weather,” says Tully Nurseries Production Manager, Peter Ruigrok.
“Our new peat-reduced mixes contain the new Osmocote 5 (8-9m) plus H2Gro water management granules and Micromax, which provides the full trace element package. We’ve always put our trust in Osmocote controlled release fertilizer – ‘it does what it says on the tin’ and we don’t need to liquid feed.”
“Andrew adjusted the lime content and included Osmoform slow-release N,” explains Peter. “This trickles away in the background, ensuring the correct balanced release of N within the mix.
“The new sustainable mixes are proving highly consistent and we’re able to produce quality plants with no negative effects,” he says. “It’s reassuring to see that customers haven’t experienced any difference in plant quality, the rooting has been very good - the end product looks fantastic.”
“There is no doubt that sustainable growing media is the way to go. It’s the direction the industry is going. We didn’t want to drag our heels – we wanted to embrace it, be proactive and move forward.
“Over the years we’ve built a good working relationship with Brendan and were one of the first nurseries here in Ireland to work with ICL. We’re delighted with the end results, frankly it couldn’t have gone better given the situation we found ourselves in, which bodes well for the Irish production industry. It all comes down to change and how you manage it. Brendan and his colleagues work through the technical detail in advance and the support and service in the background is highly reassuring.
“There are a lot of woodfibres on the market,” says Peter. “However, Fibagro Advance has been developed in-house and nothing performs as well. I can’t speak highly enough of it from a product or service point of view.”
He goes on to say; “ICL has considerable experience of supplying sustainable mixes into the UK market – its products are well researched, trialled and tested. In 2021 we saw the direction the industry was heading and jumped on board. Getting in early has proved to be a good move.“
Looking to the future Padraig says; “we’re already 35% peat reduced and our strategy is to continue this transition towards future proofed sustainable growing media mixes. We’re starting to communicate this to customers and its being well received. We plan to increase our Fibagro Advance proportion in stages over the coming years; following our latest trials, 45% is likely to be the next level.
“In the retail gardening market we’re starting to see some demand for peat-free growing media. It is the direction the professional industry is heading and limited access to peat is helping drive it forward. In the not to distance future, we expect to experience ‘pull in the market’ from customers wanting peat-free plants to retail. Growers need to be in a position to respond – the Irish production market would be crazy to ignore it.
“We have been extremely lucky to work with Brendan. Without him, and the support of the ICL technical team, we would have been much slower to embark on this sustainable growing media journey.”
Header image: ICL’s Brendan Howell and Stuart Gammage (Technical Manager for
Growing Media) at Tully Nurseries