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Otto & Sons Nursery, Fillmore

By Deborah Mills 

Deep in the center of Ventura County, surrounded by in acres and acres of Valencia orange trees, lies a veritable Mecca for rose gardeners. Although it is well known to retail nurseries from San Luis Obispo County in the north to Orange County in the south, Otto & Sons Nursery is, as far as home gardeners are concerned, one of the region's best-kept secrets. If you are a rose connoisseur, this place is a must: more than 50,000 roses and over 450 varieties.

Otto and Jeanne Klittich and their four sons, Bob, Bill, Scott and Karl, established their nursery in 1975 on two-and-a-half acres in Chatsworth. It soon became evident that they needed more room, so they sold the land and relocated to a forty-acre site in Fillmore. Otto & Sons is presently operated by Scott, who took over the business in January 1985 after receiving his degree in ornamental horticulture from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Scott's goal is, "to grow the best varieties of roses of the highest quality available." He achieves this by purchasing top-quality bareroots from several companies: Weeks, Bear Creek Gardens, Jackson & Perkins, Meilland Star Roses and Hortico. He then personally mixes each batch of potting soil, using his special recipe of redwood shavings. native soil, dolomite, sulfur and a slow-release fertilizer.

Otto & Sons is out of the way. To reach the nursery, you must drive down a rural country road, flanked on both sides by orange trees (the remote location only adds to the excitement and anticipation). Finally, after passing a number of rose-ornamented ranch houses (false alarms), you'll see a large sign surrounded by roses that marks the entrance to Otto & Sons. On the left is a teaser that many people mistake for the whole nursery, and farther down the drive is the office, which will provide a map and price list. The map shows how the roses are sectioned off by category: English and old garden roses, modern bush roses, tree roses and climbers, etc.

The easiest way. to see the entire nursery is by car. Be prepared for a visual feast: waves of dark-green foliage and vibrantly colored flowers that seem to go on forever. These masses of container-grown roses offer the best way to view any particular variety. The true colors and variations of the blossoms can be fully appreciated. Plus you have the advantage of being able to select your "perfect" plant from among the many.

Prices at Otto & Sons are based on can size (not type or variety) and are comparable to those at independent nurseries. Although the prices may, be higher than those at chain-store nurseries, the quality and selection are superior.

Otto & Sons is recognized for its antique or old roses, such as China Doll, Rina Hugo, Ballerina, Madame Alfred Carrière and Cécile Brünner. One exciting find is Grüss an Aachen, from 1930, which was the first rose to be categorized as a floribunda. (Grüss an Aachen is a great selection for an area that has a little shade.) Otto & Sons supplies roses to selected retail nurseries. Ask for them.

The nursery also features lavender, rosemary, citrus and ornamental trees, as well as items necessary for good rose culture -and a great selection of books. My favorites are The Natural Rose Gardener by Lance Walheim, which promotes an organic approach (Ironwood Press, 1994); 100 English Roses - for the American Garden by Clair G. Martin (Workman, 1997); and The Rose Bible by Rayford Clavton Reddell (Harmony Books, 1994; recently reprinted in paperback).

Keep in mind that Otto & Sons is not a regular nursery where there is someone to help you. A visit to this nursery is primarily a self-guided adventure. You will need to do your own research, bring your own references and be able to pick out and load your own purchases.

If you are traveling from afar, feel free to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the day. Otto & Sons Nursery is located at 1835 East Guiberson Road, Fillmore and is open to the public from 8:oo am to 5:00 pm, Thursday through Saturday. For directions, or to be put on a mailing list for workshops and their incredible Rose Days Spring Celebration, call (805) 524-2123.

Deborah Mills is a Ventura-based freelance writer and certified Master Gardener.


 

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.

Roses at 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.

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

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.

Lists

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.


 

Rose Days at Otto & Sons Nursery is Highly Successful

Otto & Sons Nursery observed its 5th annual Rose Days on April 19-20, lending credence to the idea that people are looking for fun things to do. Nearly 1,000 persons participated in this unique program this year, which involves wandering through the nursery to view roses in bloom.

The roses being located throughout the nursery makes looking for them a small challenge. Rose enthusiasts, however, are undaunted! It's easy to spend a few hours looking around. Each variety is identified by name, color, and classification.

The nursery mails advance notice to the area rose societies, whose members are quick to participate so they can view new rose varieties in bloom. Scott Klittich advertises the event to two weekly newspapers in Fillmore and Santa Paula, but considers the act more public relations than anything else.

The Ventura Country Rose Society sets up a table at the nursery and distributes literature on rose culture and membership information.

Lemonade and iced tea are served free as refreshments. Copies of the nursery's rose list are available to visitors.

For the first time, Rose Day featured two speakers; Sylvester Arena of Arena Roses in Wasco, and John Waldon of Bear Creek Gardens in Somis. The pair talked on rose culture and answered questions from Rose Day attendees.

The Fillmore location is excellent for roses, Scott says. On hot summer afternoons, usually around 3 o'clock, a coastal breeze comes in and cools things off. Fillmore is situated about 20 miles from the ocean in the Santa Clara River Valley. The nursery is located on the southernmost edge of land that parallels Highway 126 on Guiberson Road, which was named one of the most scenic back roads of California last year by Sunset Magazine.

Three greenhouses are used each year for holding frost-tender plants. They are equipped with heaters which, fortunately, haven't needed to be fired up for a couple of winters.

When it comes to canning-up roses, Mr. Klittich said the nursery uses redwood shavings, sand, and native soil in the planting mix that he, personally, prepares with a tractor. A slow-release fertilizer (20-9-9) is used in the potting mix. The fertilizer lasts about 3 months and then the plants are hand fed. The plants are hand-watered almost every day from spring through summer. There is occasional overhead watering of the roses by sprinklers, Mr. Klittich stated.

While Otto and Sons is primarily a wholesale grower operation, it is open to the public Thursday through Saturday. Retail sales represent little of the company's income, but Klittich feels it is important to be open to the public, if even on a restricted basis.

The nursery's small office is part sales room and the items necessary for good rose culture are on display. Otto & Sons also stocks Banding Planter Mix and other soil amendments for purchase by retail customers.

In the office hang several blue and red ribbons, won at the Santa Barbara County and Ventura County Fairs. Scott is a past president of the Channel Islands Chapter of the California Association of Nurserymen, whose territories encompasses both counties. Each year, 8 to 14 member firms install landscape displays at each of the fairs. Premiums awarded to the Channel Islands Chapter, according to Mr Klittich who is now chapter treasurer, will be spent on scholarships, research, and operational expenses. In 1996, some $11,000 was realized from the members efforts.

Scott's father, Otto Klittich, grew up in Germany, where he was a third generation nurseryman. He relocated to Illinois at age 18 and worked in a family greenhouse business. While working there he met Jeanne Fabian, who he would later marry. First, however, as a member of the U.S. Army, he would see active duty in the Korean War. After returning to Illinois he married Jeanne, and in 1954, started Landscape by Otto. In 1956, the couple moved to Southern California where Otto studied horticulture at Pierce College in the San Fernando Valley. Within a year, he resumed his landscape business, and for 22 years, was involved in landscaping throughout the Southland. In 1975, Otto & Sons Wholesale Nursery was established on 2 ½ acres in Chatsworth. It became evident that more room was needed and a 3-acre site in Sylmar was leased as a growing grounds. The Klittich family sold the Chatsworth land and started looking for other property.

A forty-acre site over the mountains in Fillmore was located, and that's where the nursery is now located. 25 acres of an orange orchard was left untouched, but 12 acres of land was converted into the nursery.

Otto Klittich has four sons, all of whom grew up in the green industry. Oldest brother, Bob, is employed by Green Thumb Nursery in Canoga Park, where he is the head grower. The other brothers have left the green industry to pursue other careers. Scott was the only son that was interested in continuing the nursery business in Fillmore. His parents live on the property, but Otto no longer has much involvement in the business.

Scott and Cindy Klittich have been married for 15 years and have three sons: Danny 9, Andy 6, and a 6-month old Timmy. Cindy works at the nursery occasionally. They live in Fillmore, 5 miles away.

When Scott is away, foreman Isauro Saines, who lives on the property, is in charge. Paula McMahan, a part-time bookkeeper, has worked for the company for over 8 years.

Scott is involved in the community, which was devastated by the 1994 Northridge earthquake. In a matter of a few years, downtown Fillmore has been restored to the look of the 1940s, with a new city hall. They want to retain that "Smalltown, U.S.A." atmosphere that captures the spirit of Fillmore. The city's population is 13,000 and the post-earthquake efforts have revitalized the populace.

Adjacent to the new city hall is a redevelopment area that features a railroad station, complete with diesel and steam-powered trains which run a few miles to the east and have the capability of hooking up with another line which owns the tracks to Ventura, some 20 miles to the west. When completed, the railroad ("Fillmore and Western") is expected to become a Southern California landmark. Currently, Mr Klittich reports, movies are being shot on the train location and TV commercials are being lined up to take advantage of the new opportunity.

Mr. Klittich serves on the Fillmore Parks & Recreation Commission. "It used to be more recreation than parks," Scott noted, while saying the other members of the commission are pleased to have a nurseryman on it. His community service, involvement in the Camarillo Peace Lutheran Church, along with all his contributions to CAN, at the state and chapter levels, won for Scott Klittich the honor of young Nurseryman of the Year in 1994.

He is very enthusiastic about being able to supply roses to retail nurseries. His experiences tell him that many nurseries struggle to produce average roses, causing the retail owners and managers to become discouraged when the plants sell slowly, or not at all. Mr. Klittich prides himself on delivering quality roses to his accounts. The plants have dark green foliage, and are in bud and bloom, which causes them to sell quickly. Scott says his goal is to "grow the best varieties of roses and the highest quality available," and to make sure his customers are successful.


 

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