January 2015
Staying Dry By Bill Calkins

With shoppers focusing on eco-friendly gardening, water-wise plants have the potential to be some of your top sellers.

Homeowners across North America are on the lookout for water-wise plants and products for their homes and gardens.

And the emerging millennial consumer base (who grew up turning off the water while they brushed their teeth) is super conscious of the importance of water, and will no doubt look for more water-wise plants than any generation before.

The latest U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, issued by the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center in December 2014, discussed drought improvement in Northern California but cited “extreme to exceptional” drought for much of the state, as well as long-term drought across much of the central and southern Great Plains.

Additional short-term drought is intensifying across parts of the lower Mississippi Valley and central Gulf Coast. In short: Drought restrictions and watering bans are here to stay.

Now is the time to position your store as the water-wise plant destination in the area!

Story Telling

From annuals and perennials to woody ornamentals, breeders and plant selectors are paying close attention to how much water is required to keep plants thriving in home and commercial landscapes.

It’s great to incorporate water-wise plants into your product assortment, but unless you make this very clear to shoppers, they might not put two and two together.

Take a close look at your product mix and identify the low-water varieties. Then group them on benches and endcaps to draw attention and encourage multiple-unit sales.

Since drought is such a common topic in affected communities, consider hosting an event at your store to educate the public about water-wise plants and drought-tolerant gardening. Maybe call it a “Mid-Summer Garden Refresher Course” to share easy hot-weather tips and ideas for replacing sunburned and dried-out plants. Be sure to serve ice-cold lemonade!

And don’t forget to mirror these activities online and via social media. Post water-wise boards to your Pinterest page. Start a Facebook discussion about drought-tolerant plants for your area. List the top 10 water-wise plants on your store’s homepage. Blog about the water-wise plants in your store. The opportunities are endless.

Hot, Hot, Hot

Unfortunately, with drought and summer heat comes dead plants. It’s a reality all gardeners face.

But with challenge comes opportunity and, as a retailer, you need to be ready to help customers replace plants, planters and plantings in the heat of summer when many people entertain outdoors and want to enjoy their gardens.

If you are a grower/retailer, consider adding another crop turn timed for mid-June. The trick here is to grow larger sizes than you would offer in the spring. Don’t forget you are replacing full-sized plants at this point: Offer patio pots instead of gallons; 6-inch instead of six packs; big baskets and container veggies.

If you have these super-sized replacements, tell the public you have them. Here’s your opportunity to own the late-season market in your area. But you will have to change the way people think and what they expect to find at your store in the heat of summer.

When you provide an important solution like this, don’t be reluctant to charge a good price for it. Remember, your customers are anxious to solve their sad-plant problem and stay in the good graces of the mother-in-law (priceless!).

Plant Selection

Many water-wise plants have been introduced over the past five or 10 years, and many more are on the way.

If you are a grower/retailer, ask your sales reps to call out new, water-wise plants to add to your mix and browse breeder catalogs for new water-wise varieties.

Here are a few recent introductions to consider:

• Verbena EnduraScape from Ball FloraPlant is a hardy landscape verbena for summer flower production – it takes the heat and stays in bloom longer. EnduraScape is the first verbena that’s hardy to the low teens and reblooms in spring.

• Angelonia Serenita from PanAmerican Seed is the perfect choice for gardeners looking for water-wise, heat-loving plants that won’t be ruined by deer or rabbits.

• Echinacea PowWow from Kieft Seed are very drought-tolerant, easy-care plants that stay tidy at retail with long holdability, plus they look great in the garden. Echinacea is a “top five” perennial – gardeners and landscapers especially flock to All-America Selections award-winning Wild Berry for its non-fading color show.

• Lantana Little Lucky from Ball FloraPlant is perfect for small pots and landscape packs. Little Lucky stands up to heat, drought and other stressful garden conditions.

• Gaillardia Mesa from Kieft Seed is very drought tolerant once established, with intense, nonfading color all season. These upright, well-branched plants perform well in water-wise landscapes.

• Vinca Titan from PanAmerican Seed is a North American field trial rock star that has proven itself a warrior in the landscape. When the temps go up, it just keeps blooming.

Now’s the Time

Whether the driving factor is environmental responsibility, adherence to municipal regulations or simply a lack of time, there’s definitely an emerging customer base seeking drought-tolerant and water-wise options for their home gardens.

At the same time, breeders and hybridizers are screening crops for drought-tolerance and actively seeking out water-wise options. The result? Tons of plants coming to market to fill those needs.

This gives you an opportunity to get on the cutting edge of water-wise plant introductions and the ability to dominate this quickly emerging niche in your local market before others can jump on board.

Don’t wait another season to develop your store’s water-wise strategy. Take the first step today by scouring your plant assortment and identifying candidates to promote this spring.

With shoppers focusing on eco-friendly gardening, water-wise plants have the potential to be some of your top sellers.

Bill Calkins

As retail business manager at Ball Horticultural Co., Bill Calkins capitalizes on his retail garden center background to spot the latest trends and creative strategies, positioning products and developing programs for retail garden centers and the growers that supply them. Contact him at [email protected]


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