Brent Troost found his calling as a grower at age 12, when the local garden center gave him several leftover plants he’d been eyeing. He created “an impromptu garden” next to his parents’ house in West Michigan, where he planted flowers and vegetables that amazed his neighbors and sparked his lifelong passion.
Troost kept cultivating plants in his backyard as he grew older, and then worked at a garden center during high school. “Customers would ask me [for] advice about plants, and I was relatively knowledgeable because I’d been growing for years,” he says.
While studying ornamental horticulture at Michigan State University, Troost began working at Sawyer Nursery, a large perennial greenhouse in Hudsonville, Michigan, where he assisted the head grower, Paul Pilon. When Troost graduated in 2004, the nursery offered him the head grower position at its Alabama facility. There, he oversaw 100 acres of outdoor perennial container production.
After a couple years in Alabama, Troost moved to Miami to work for the color division of Costa Farms. As head of propagation, he managed production of 100 million plugs and liners in addition to managing Costa’s offshore unrooted cutting facility in the Dominican Republic.
After working at Costa for a couple years, Troost moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan — closer to his family — and joined Zylstra Greenhouses in the dual role of head grower and general manager. “I learned a lot about the details of general operations that a head grower doesn’t always think about,” he says.
When Zylstra’s owner decided to close the business in 2015, Troost moved to the head grower position at Color Point’s Granville, Illinois, wholesale bedding plant greenhouse. The facility, which Color Point acquired from Mid-American Growers in 2014, spans 85 acres of greenhouse production space — and also supplies plugs to Color Point’s 30-acre production facility in Kentucky, where the company is based.
Being head grower is “an opportunity to not just grow plants, but to watch people grow in their talent when it comes to growing plants,” Troost says. “I couldn’t be any happier.”
Bringing in beneficial bugs
Troost started working with beneficial insects while he was head grower at Zylstra. With the owner’s approval to explore biological pest control, Troost began releasing beneficial mites on his Dracaena spike crop to combat a recurring thrip problem.
As biocontrol proved effective, Troost expanded the program to address pests on other crops — until eventually, Zylstra’s entire young plant program used beneficial mites. When he joined Color Point, he leveraged this experience to introduce a biocontrol program, starting with young plants. In 2018, the program expanded to poinsettias.
“In fact, our whole poinsettia program was biological this year,” Troost said in 2018. “From sticks to finish, they never received any insecticides. We’re growing poinsettias without the use of neonics, and that’s exciting to me.”
Color Point is so invested in beneficial pests that the greenhouse actually breeds its own colonies of Atheta beetles and Hypoaspis mites that fight common pests. Aside from the bugs bred on-site, Color Point also brings in other beneficials, including: cucumeris mites, swirski mites, Steinernema nematodes, Aphidius colemani and other predator wasps to control thrips, whiteflies, fungus gnats and other pests.
“It’s a different way of thinking about [pest control] than just saying, ‘Let’s spray chemicals,’ so you have to overcome that mindset,” Troost says. “If you want to be successful using biological control, you’ve got to be persistent.”
That’s why Troost has a plant health specialist on his team who’s responsible for random virus testing, purchasing and putting out biologicals, and rearing beneficial colonies — all to ensure that the greenhouse provides clean, healthy plant material.
Although Troost pursued horticulture because of his passion for growing plants, his commitment to cultivating other growers is integral.
“It’s more than just the plants; it’s engaging your people and working with them on a daily basis — that’s the most important key to being a successful head grower,” Troost says. “I always say: The plant part is easy. The people portion is the hardest part.”
Troost manages 24 people at Color Point, including two lead growers, 20 section growers and two assistants. He meets with the whole team every morning to share a rundown of the day ahead. Then, section growers are responsible for making sure their crops are watered, sprayed and grown to spec. To ensure consistent quality, Troost and his lead growers walk and talk with section growers to provide hands-on, one-on-one daily training.
To further develop his team, Troost organized an all-day educational event in December 2018 — bringing in chemical reps and plant experts like Dr. Ann Chase of Chase Horticultural Research to discuss plant diseases, pests, biocontrol and traditional chemistries. He hopes to make the training day an annual event to help his team grow their plant passion and knowledge.
“I’m all about empowering my team,” Troost says, “so if I’m not here or if I go on vacation, I can sleep at night knowing that I trust their decision-making.”