Otto & Sons Nursery takes top honors at Ventura County Fair

Otto & Sons Nursery rose display at the 1998 Ventura County Fair featured two Scarlet Meidiland Weeping 60 inch Tree Roses surrounded by a variety of beautiful roses. We won a first place ribbon in the Commercial Nurseries-Flowering Plants category.

Otto & Sons Nursery rose display at the 1998 Ventura County Fair featured two Scarlet Meidiland Weeping 60 inch Tree Roses surrounded by a variety of beautiful roses. We won a first place ribbon in the Commercial Nurseries-Flowering Plants category.

Roses Fill Niche for Scott Klittich and His Wholesale Nursery In Fillmore from Pacific Coast Nurseryman and Garden Supply, June 1997

Fair Photo Otto & Sons

Scott Klittich, owner of Otto & Sons Nursery in Fillmore, in Southern California, was looking for a niche and, in 1989, he added roses to the product line of his 12-acre production nursery. After a modest beginning, the sale of container-grown roses accounts for one-third the business done by the wholesale nursery.

Mr. Klittich, 37, obviously enjoys what he is doing and is capable of shaping the future of his business. That's why he started looking for a niche back in the 1980s. At first he thought of starting to grow and sell perennials, but several other nurseries were entering that market, and he didn't want to get caught up in the competition. He did have a degree of success with daylilies.

For 1997, Otto & Sons Nursery ordered 30,000 bare root roses. These were rooted in cans and are being sold to independent retail nurseries from Laguna Beach in Orange County in the south to Atascadero in San Luis Obispo County in the north. However, Mr. Klittich's prime market is the San Fernando Valley, where the nursery has a good history in dealing with retailers.

On Mondays and Tuesdays Scott Klittich is never in the nursery; he's on the road calling on accounts and selling plants that will be delivered later in the week. Klittich will see 50 customers in a two-week period. Recently, Mr. Klittich acquired a new International Truck with a 24-ft. box so that Otto and Sons Nursery can better serve customers in San Luis Obispo County.

In order to fill the niche of being a supplier of roses, Scott has gone out of his way to anticipate retailers' needs. He offers tree roses and climbers in 15 gallon containers, and as espaliers. New this year are weeping tree roses on 60 inch standards. He's even experimenting with pom pom roses to see how they fare.

Otto & Sons Nursery offered 352 varieties of roses for sale in 1997. This includes probably the largest selection of English roses in southern California. The nursery has around 7,000 English roses of 60 varieties.

Among the other 292 varieties are Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, Grandifloras, miniatures, English Garden Roses, Old Garden Roses, and varieties which are used for their arching and mounding growth habits. The nursery also offers 34 varieties of 36 inch tree roses, a dozen varieties of miniature trees (18 inch) and 10 varieties of patio tree roses (24 inch). A wide selection of 30 different climbers offers almost unlimited choices.

A 1984 graduate of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he majored in nursery management. Mr. Klittich is attuned to trends of the trade today. He knows, for instance, that many retail nursery owners are struggling to stay afloat in today's box store-oriented market. For this reason, he tries to distinguish his products from others in the market by, for instance, going that extra mile in deciding just the right containers to use for his roses. Retail accounts were asked which container they preferred, and the verdict was Nursery Supplies' Grip lip which has a large edge at the top, making it easy to carry. While the bulk of the roses are potted in these GripLip containers, Mr. Klittich uses an 11 inch Dec-Gro terra cotta version for miniatures. The combination looks good and sells well for retailers, he says. Most growers use smaller containers for miniatures, but he likes the 5 gallon size because it affords more room for root development, and if the retail customer prefers to grow miniatures in containers, he can just set the terra cotta pot on the porch or patio.

Otto & Sons Nursery receives its shipment of roses over a 10-week period, starting the first week of December. About three thousand roses a week are received during this period, keeping a crew busy canning them up and moving them onto the growing grounds.

The nursery's planting schedule of consecutive deliveries enables Mr. Klittich to deliver first-bloom roses from early March through early May. Making "first bloom" roses available all spring.

In the nursery fields, the roses are grouped thusly: Hybrid teas, grandiflora, and floribundas are combined in one area, miniatures in another, and climbers and mounding/arching types in yet another. English Garden Roses and Old Garden Roses are placed in a separate area, while tree roses are grown by themselves in areas throughout the nursery.

Mr. Klittich basses the number of plants to order on last year's sales and on customers requests. If 70% of a variety didn't sell, it will be dropped from the inventory. By the end of June, he wants 50% of the roses to be sold, leaving enough stock to have a good selection of roses year-round.


In addition to compiling a list of roses by color (apricot, coral, lavender, multi-color, orange, pink, red, white, yellow), Mr. Klittich prepares an availability list, showing all the rose varieties available from Otto & Sons Nursery. This list is updated weekly throughout the season, which helps retail accounts. There are symbols used to help market the plants: B stands for budded; BB for bud & bloom; and those varieties which look especially nice are circled. A check mark indicates the nursery has a variety in stock but it is not in bud & bloom.

In the summertime, Mr. Klittich tours the rose fields in Wasco near Bakersfield, which is less than a 2-hour drive from the nursery. Rose growers there show him their new varieties. This helps Klittich know what to expect in the future. The growers give Mr. Klittich samples of the new varieties for him to grow and evaluate for his market. Sunset Celebration, a 1998 All-American Rose selection, which commemorates Sunset Magazine's 100th anniversary, was looking good in early April and should be a best seller in the trade next year when it becomes available. It is being introduced by Weeks Wholesale Rose Grower in Upland, CA.

Interestingly, Iceberg, a white floribunda, is the top selling variety at Otto & Sons. Scott sold 1,500 Icebergs in 1996 and ordered 2,700 for this year. It is also the best-selling climbing rose the nursery offered last year.

Mr. Klittich is bullish on English Garden Roses. He feels much of their popularity can be attributed to the "education" about them in recent years. "They aren't like the traditional roses Americans are used to growing. They're unique and have to be treated differently." Says Klittich. He feels homeowners should use them as flowering shrubs.

Hybridizers took the old fashioned roses and crossed them with modern roses. The older varieties bloomed profusely and were highly fragrant, but their drawbacks included; blooming only once a year, being prone to disease, and growing as large unwieldy shrubs. By crossing them with more modern types, they retain their good qualities but are now more useful in American landscapes. David Austin was a pioneer in this field and, of Otto & Son's inventory, 60 of the English roses were developed by him. There are several other players on the scene whose hybrids are also featured at the nursery.

What about the future of roses? Scott Klittich sees them being used more in landscape situations than in organized rose gardens. There has been a proliferation of landscape-type roses in the trade today and ground cover-type roses are becoming increasingly popular. He sees even more of these type roses becoming available in the nursery industry.

Because he is trying to fill a niche, Mr. Klittich now offers retail nurseries roses in 15 gallon sizes. These are ideal for retailers looking for something unique for their customers.

Otto & Sons Nursery has 100 each of 20 varieties of climbing roses that were canned up last year and are exceptional buys today. There are 5 to 10 each of 40 assorted varieties of bush roses, hybrid teas, grandiflors and English roses in stock. But what are really beautiful are the roses espaliered in 15 gallon containers. These are in limited supply but well worth the money in the right market.

What has Scott enthused are the 80 plants he bought from Meilland Star Roses weeping tree roses on 60 inch standards. He expects these to be easy to sell when the foliage is hanging half-way down the 60 inch trunk and full of flowers.

Otto & Sons Nursery practices IPM (Integrated Pest Management) which has significantly reduced its pesticide use in recent years. Mr. Klittich has a Pest Control Advisor's license and is qualified to oversee the nursery's program. He explained that for four months in a row (March, April, May, and June), he releases 100,000 green lacewings each month. In June and July, 100,000 predacious mites are released each month. The lacewings help control the aphids and the mites help control two-spotted spider mites. The goal, according to Klittich, is to produce pristine-looking plants for market with minimal harm to the environment.

A fungicide is sprayed every two weeks for mildew, black spot, and rust. Last year Klittich started using Sun Ultra Fine oil for insect and fungus control. It smothers fungal spores and insect eggs; Scott is enthusiastic over the results he has achieved with the product. Mildew season is when there are warm days and cold nights. Rust shows up when it's cold and moist; usually early in the year. Black spot shows up later. Aphids are a spring pest and two-spotted spider mites show up when its hot and dry. In Fillmore, summer temperatures can climb to 105 degrees F. and in winter, can plunge below 32 degrees F.

The nursery has a SensiPhone that is programmed to telephone Scott's home in Fillmore when the temperature drops to 30 degrees F. When this happens, he arrives at the nursery and checks the thermometers. If the winds aren't blowing, and the temperature is still dropping, he will turn on the heaters in the greenhouses, and turn on the frost sprinklers. In the cold winter of 1990, these sprinklers ran for three days straight.