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Division of Marketing and Development
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Mayo Building, M-9
407 South Calhoun Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0800
(850) 617-7300

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Adam H. Putnam, Commissioner

Fraleigh Nursery, Inc.

Madison, Florida

Jay Fraleigh, owner of Fraleigh Nursery in Madison County, has invented a new water-saving, runoff-reducing method for growing containerized nursery plants. His patented “Gro-Eco” system is good for the planet and good for the grower’s wallet because it uses just a fraction of the water consumed by conventional overhead irrigation systems. Gro-Eco offers a whole range of benefits, including lower startup costs and healthier, more beautiful plants.

There are other low-pressure watering systems for large containers, but Gro-Eco is an exciting new development because it is designed primarily for smaller pots, between one and seven gallons. Gro-Eco is flexible enough to work for larger pots, too, and can be used for growing both woody and herbaceous species. It allows ornamental plant growers to take advantage of the technology used by cutting-edge vegetable farmers.

The Gro-Eco system works like this: Raised beds are built and covered with weed cloth. Holes are burned in the cloth and pockets dug in the beds to accommodate nursery pots of various sizes. Only the upper third of each pot extends above the top of the bed. Irrigation drip tape runs down each row of plants along the tops of the containers, while another drip tube, buried under the cloth in the center of the bed, helps keep the roots cool. Moderating the temperature of the roots keeps the plants healthy and further cuts down on the amount of water they need. Fertilizer can also be applied through the drip system.

The Gro-Eco system has numerous advantages and solves many of the problems presented by conventional overhead irrigation. First and foremost, it saves as much as 80 percent of the water used by overhead sprinkler systems for irrigating small containers. Because less water is being pumped for irrigation, the grower also sees a substantial reduction in energy use and costs.

Only a small fraction of the water applied by overhead sprinklers is retained for plant growth, while the rest becomes runoff and evaporation. But with Gro-Eco, water and fertilizer runoff, as well as nitrogen leaching, has been eliminated. Water quality is protected, and the nursery is able to substantially reduce its chemical usage since drip-tape fertilizer applications are more efficient. The Gro-Eco system meets and exceeds current Best Management Practices for runoff issues.

Dealing with runoff is a high-priced problem in the nursery business. Growers using overhead irrigation must dig retention ponds and install culverts to catch and direct runoff, an expensive and time-consuming process. By eliminating runoff, Gro-Eco reduces construction costs by 40 percent. Plus, a nursery can be up and running much more quickly.

The system is less labor intensive, so growers see a 24 percent to 30 percent reduction in operating costs. Many common nursery tasks are eliminated or made easier with Gro-Eco. For example, there are fewer weeds to pull, and plants don’t blow over in strong winds.

Gro-Eco produces healthier plants than those grown under overhead irrigation. Overhead irrigation means wet leaves, which can lead to fungal problems -- and the need to apply expensive chemical fungicides. By keeping the leaves drier, Gro-Eco reduces the need for fungicide applications. Plants are healthier -- and so is the environment.

Gro-Eco moderates the temperature of plant roots, providing insulation from cold and heat damage and resulting in quicker, healthier growth. Since implementing the system, Fraleigh Nursery reports that residency time for many cultivars has been reduced by as much as 30 percent. The final advantage is in marketing. Water conservation is an issue of increasing concern to the public. Gro-Eco adds value to plants because growers can market them as being produced in a way that is environmentally friendly.

Jay Fraleigh is a sixth-generation Florida farmer, born and raised in Madison. After graduating from Lake City Community College with a degree in landscape design, he spent 15 years working for Wight Nursery in Cairo, Georgia, before returning to Madison to open Fraleigh Nursery on the family farm where he grew up. Today, three-quarters of the 40-acre nursery produces plants using the Gro-Eco method.

Fraleigh serves on the Florida Farm Bureau State Ornamental Horticulture Advisory Committee and is a member of the board of directors for the Madison County Farm Bureau. He lives in Madison with his wife, Donna, and sons, Russell and Lane.

Watch the Fraleigh Nursery Video
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