January 2023
What’s Trending With Home Gardeners By Teresa McPherson

Katie Dubow shares the most surprising insights from Garden Media Group’s 22nd annual Garden Trends Report.

Garden Media Group owner Katie Dubow had been actively avoiding one of the trends featured in her company’s latest Garden Trends Report — but she encourages garden centers not to do so.

“The TikTok trend … was something that I had been ignoring, not only in my professional life but in my personal life,” she says. “I hadn’t joined TikTok, I was really kind of anti-TikTok and my younger colleagues convinced me that I can’t ignore it anymore. When you look at TikTok, it is one of those platforms that is huge in gardening — gardening is one of the top four most talked about things on the platform.

“My colleague showed me some of the influencers that were on there — how users are walking around garden centers, doing garden center tours and the garden centers they’re touring are not on TikTok. There’s nobody there to comment, nobody there to like it. So it really helped me see that, as an industry, we cannot ignore TikTok anymore. This platform is growing by leaps and bounds, and it’s not just young people anymore. They have a huge engaged user base of 50 million daily active users — I’m doing a report on it right now — and more than 55% of them are 25 or older, while 37% are 35 and older, so it’s not just young people anymore. I was really surprised by that. I definitely thought it was just young people doing these dance videos, but it’s really not. People are going to the platform for gardening content, for investment advice, for book recommendations.”

She says all garden centers need to have a profile on TikTok — not necessarily to be active on, but so that people can tag them.

Need some inspiration or motivation to join? Check out some other garden centers’ accounts. “I see some garden centers doing it really well, like Tonkadale [Greenhouse in Minnetonka, Minnesota],” Dubow says. “They are doing it really, really well. But I don’t think that you have to be [posting every day], but you should be there to see when you’re being talked about.”

She says the best way to participate in TikTok — and social media in general — is to partner with influencers.

“I think the best way to share your message is to have somebody else tell your story,” Dubow says. “Instead of you saying how great you are, if someone else says how great you are, it’s a little bit more believable. I think working with influencers is a wonderful way on the platform, and garden centers should work with micro-influencers. The TikTok influencer that has 100 million views might not be the right fit, but find some local people who are doing those garden center tours of your garden center and comment and engage with them.

“Look for your garden center’s name; maybe you’ll find some people who have already [posted about your store]. If people haven’t talked about you, you can do a search — search for the name of your town, the name of your city. Search for misspellings of your name. We have Google alerts for all of our clients, and we have multiple alerts for common misspellings of the name as well because so often — even influencers that we pay to work with — will misspell the name. If you know there’s an influencer in your area, go directly and follow that person and then TikTok will suggest people who are like them.”

 Text Marketing 

“Maybe I should have said [text message or SMS marketing] was the most surprising,” Dubow says. “After the trends report came out, I was at a gathering of green associations, and one of the landscapers there said he’s been using text messaging for snow [removal]. He’ll text the client when they’re about 15 minutes away and he’ll text pictures when it’s done. And it’s all automatic — the trucks are literally texting. He said his customers appreciate it. And it has reduced their customer service times — the time that people spend on the phone with their crews or with their office staff. There are so many applications for this.

Jared [Hughes] from Groovy Plants Ranch also told me that he used text messaging when he had 1,000 banana trees that he grew this past winter and he wanted to pre-sell them,” she says. “He put 500 up for pre-sale and sent out a text on a Tuesday: ‘The sale is coming on Friday.’ The day after the Friday of the sale, all 500 were sold out. So it’s a way to tell your customers about something special — it is not an everyday thing. Just think about how you would want to be texted by a brand.”

She advises garden centers considering text message or SMS marketing to have a well-curated email list. She says your email list should be divided into categories, such as houseplant shoppers or small space gardeners.

“You should not be email blasting your newsletters to every single person on your list.”

The trends report explains how the U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones have changed dramatically

Tree Talk

The trends report explains how the U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones have changed dramatically. It has been publishing the map since 1960, but in the most recent update in 2012, nearly half the country is at least half a zone warmer.

“Davey Tree did some research recently with the Arbor Day Foundation, and they have a cool little interactive map on their website that you put in your zip code and it tells you how your zone will change between the years of 2050 and 2099.

“What that means for us as an industry is maybe those of us in Pennsylvania can have more tropical plants because our zone is a little warmer. That’s a little bit fun to be able to garden differently,” she says. “But it’s also a huge education tool; that gardeners who used to grow certain plants may not be able to grow them anymore because they need a frost that you don’t get anymore.

“We all know how important trees are as one solution to fighting climate change — they are not the [only] solution — and trees are not able to adapt like our annuals, perennials and even some of our shrubs. We need to be planting trees today for the climate of the future.”

She says many of the massive plant-a-tree campaigns that happen are not actually helping.

“There’s article after article about the ugly side of these tree planting initiatives. These trees’ average life is three years, so they’re all investing all this time and our tree resources into putting in these trillion trees, and they’re living for three years.

“So what we really need to do is, as an industry, emphasize the right tree that is the right tree for the next 100 years and beyond — and it might not be the tree that you’re used to planting today. So the right tree in the right place. It’s really important that our industry be a leader for educating people on how to plant trees and what the right trees are. That, I think, will enact really valuable change and get more trees planted and have them have a longer shelf life, if you will.”

Dubow suggests garden centers find a local arborist and host an “Ask the Arborist” day, with a “Trees of the Future” section showcasing the benefits of each tree — and how to best plant it.

Seeing Red-ish

Garden Media Group chose terra cotta as its 2023 Color of the Year. Several paint companies also chose earthy red tones — Sherwin-Williams selected its Redend Point and Benjamin Moore named Raspberry Blush as their 2023 colors.

“What I am seeing across the board is earth tones for sure,” she says. “When we were doing research for the color of the year, it was earth tones all the way — beiges and very neutral colors, all these earthy tones. And again, back to that climate and reconnecting with the earth, it’s also very calming. Out in the desert, there’s not a lot of green, but it is serene and very calming, and I think that that is one of the reasons why it’s perfect for this year. There is so much turmoil going on out in the world, so wouldn’t it be nice to just surround our homes inside and out with these very, very calming colors?

“Last year we picked green, and then every paint company on the planet also picked a hue of green, so as much as this is a lot of fun for us — we don’t take it too seriously — but I don’t want to be completely off. I want people to respect the work that we do and know what a lot of research goes into this.

“If you ask other people what they are most looking forward to in our trends report, it is often the color of the year, so there’s a lot of pressure — so maybe that’s why it’s not my favorite [part of the report].”

Dubow says that while terra cotta pots are an obvious choice for the color, “We urge garden centers to think outside of the pot with foliage or flowers. There are some really cool coneflowers that are deep orange, almost that terra cotta color. Do a Color of the Year endcap — don’t paint your whole store! Make the area like an Instagram-able moment for people and show them that they can do color blocking — color blocking is a huge design trend — to create that color in their garden. I think that is a really cool way to showcase this color if you’re a garden center.”

Adaptive Gardening

While garden centers often focus their attention on attracting millennials and Gen Z, it’s important to market to older generations as well.

“Baby boomers are an audience who have adapted to our products for a long time,” Dubow says. “They love gardening; they know how to garden. So how are we making sure that we’re shifting to adapt to their needs? One way that we suggest is plant coaching. Maybe someone has moved and they don’t know how to garden in their zone. Maybe they moved from the Midwest down to Florida and, while they know how to garden, they know how to put together a gorgeous container, they don’t need a designer, but they need some understanding of what plants grow well in their climate. So they could just use a little bit of coaching in that way. Or maybe they moved from a 2-acre lot to apartments and they’ve never grown in a container before, so they may not even know that the container needs drainage holes.

“It’s a little advice on how their needs have shifted and maybe even how the times have changed. It’s no longer just these huge heavy containers anymore; now we have really beautiful lightweight containers. And soil mixes that have evolved since they have been gardening.

“Plant coaching is not new,” she says. “I’ve seen some cool signs in garden centers that say ‘The Plant Doctor is in’ so people can ask for advice. Some brands have it on their website; they call it the ‘Plant Mom,’ so you can ask the Plant Mom a question — it’s a really fun way to make this accessible for people and make them feel comfortable asking a question.”

Dubow says garden centers should frame it as a plant coach giving advice, not consulting a designer.

“I think a lot of people see dollar signs when they think of a plan of a landscape designer or they think, Oh, I don’t need that — I know how to garden. But a coach is just a little bit of an easier entrée into us helping them just grow their garden.

To download a copy of the Garden Trends Report, visit www.gardenmediagroup.com.

For an enhanced reading experience, view this article in our digital edition.

Teresa McPherson

Teresa McPherson is the managing editor of Lawn & Garden Retailer. Contact her at [email protected].