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Feed the plants

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  • | 11:00 a.m. December 25, 2015
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It's all about the nutrients.

Tom Scannell says great plant food shouldn't be reserved for commercial growers only. A former bougainvillea grower and large-scale farmer, Scannell says he started selling so much plant food to his commercial customers that he got out of the farming business in 2012.

Today, Scannell's company, Bougainvillea Growers International, sells plant food such as BouGain and SuperGain to the public through retailers such as Home Depot and Lowe's. He also sells it to horticulturalists who maintain Busch Gardens and Disney World gardens.

Scannell doesn't disclose sales, but he says growth has been strong this year. “Our growth rate is 20% year to date,” he says. “If you grow faster than that you need an infusion of capital, which I am averse to.”

Some of the company's growth spurt this year has come from, where BGI is a vendor. “Amazon is the new Wal-Mart, and they're just crushing it,” says Scannell, whose Pine Island-based company operates a warehouse and distribution facility in Cape Coral.

Still, it's important to be diversified. “We're still trying to find the independent garden centers because it spreads out the wealth of the customer base,” Scannell says.

BGI has developed fertilizers for other plants, including orchids, citrus, hibiscus and palms. By next year, the company will have 20 different plant foods, Scannell says. “There are two ways to grow: more customers and more items,” Scannell says.

Some products are entirely new forays. “We're launching an organic product called OrganicGain,” Scannell says, noting it's made from turkey manure. “It took a lot of research.”

Scannell created his plant food by scouring academic research from agriculture science programs at Cornell University, Michigan State University and University of Michigan. “They're the gurus in that field,” says Scannell, who earned a degree in soil science from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Some plants need as many as 17 essential nutrients to grow successfully. Those ingredients need to be mixed in proper balance, too. In the end, though, customers care about one thing: “It's all about results,” Scannell says.

BGI has created attractive shiny bags for the plant food and they come in three different sizes, from two to 10 and 50-pound bags. The two-pound bag retails from about $7 to $12, for example.

Scannell lives in St. James City, a small town on Pine Island in Lee County. There he has his own 101-acre farm where he grows his own vegetables. On Nov. 10, he opened his own farmers market just south of where the island's road links to Cape Coral. His plant foods are available for sale there too, of course.

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss


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