Grower Profile: Alex Diaz
Meet Alex Diaz, cacti and succulents grower at Costa Farms.
What’s your job title?
I am the production manager of cacti and succulents, including bromeliads. But just recently my job title changed and I am the OU manager (OU stands for Operating Unit) over cactus, succulents, bromeliads.
How long have you worked at Costa Farms?
I’ve been here since 2005.
What’s your favorite thing about growing succulents?
I enjoy plants in general. I was in the houseplants part of the business for 10 years. Cactus and succulents were a complete change from the types of plants I’d been working with. Succulents are different: They have more color, more texture, more variety. I’m still learning about them.
And is there a specific plant species you love and why?
I really enjoying the variety and colors of the whole array of succulents. We are doing testing to get more color, which make the plants more appealing. For example, the way we fertilize them can change the way they look, so we are testing different application rates. We are working specifically with Crassula, Kalanchoe, and Echeveria because they are more colorful. We are evaluate changes in light, nutrition, and a combination of both.
Is there any take away you can share from your research that would help a succulent owner at home get more color from a plant?
Well, the amount of light definitely affects the color. The higher light levels brings out certain colors. And certain nutrients can affect color: too much nitrogen produces more green. So when you grow with lower rates of nitrogen, it brings out the red in the plants.
In a nutshell, what do you need to know in order to be successful with succulents?
They are all different. They come from different parts of the world. We think they all need the same care requirements. Not so. Knowing about the genus helps you figure out how to take care for it. But generally, in the home and garden, they are fairly easy care.
And what are the general care guidelines for home growers?
LIGHT: Succulents like high indirect light.
FEEDING: Don’t over feed succulents. Plants will get green and leggy. Use a fertilizer with a low first number (N), which is nitrogen.
WATERING: Don’t over water. Overwatering is detrimental.
TEMPERATURES: Watch the temperatures. Many of the succulents can’t handle cold and will freeze in frosty weather. But some can take temps in the low 20s Fahrenheit.
WINTER CARE: Bring plants indoors into the brightest areas of your home. Don’t water them the same as you do when they are outdoors. Let them really dry out.
How do you keep growing in your job?
I’ve been here for 13 years. And I continue to learn. Plants don’t speak to you, but they tell you things. There’s always something new, a new pest, a new disease -- and I’m on that journey again. I never feel bored. The fun part is the plants. Plants aren’t widgets.
At any given time, how many plants are in production.
Several million -- from all stages: seed, tissue culture, liner/cutting, final growing pot.
What did you major in? Were plants part of that?
I have a BA in Environmental Horticulture from the University of Florida. And a Masters degree in Entomology.
So you know a lot about bugs. And your advice about keeping plants pest free?
Early detection is key -- watch your plants.
If you could be a plant, what would you be?
I would like to be a coconut palm by the beach. Because it’s on the beach.