Whether you’re a grower, a retailer or some mesh of the two, there’s no avoiding the fact you need to do something with your excess plants once they’ve passed the sellable point. Dumping them probably seems like the most logical next step, but as Al’s Garden Center & Greenhouses demonstrates, there are alternatives to simply making your plants compost in any season.
Every fall, Al’s Garden Center and Greenhouses grows about 50,000 poinsettias for the Christmas season. Last November, Al’s happened to grow a bumper crop of poinsettias because of fantastic fall weather in Oregon.
Al’s could have attempted to sell the extra 1,000 or so poinsettias that grew, but having budgeted about 50,000 for retail in past years, there was no guarantee the extras would sell at its local garden centers. So, rather than push the extras at retail, Al’s decided to build some good will in the community by donating hundreds of poinsettias to Loaves & Fishes Centers that serve seniors with their Meals-On-Wheels program.
“The Meals-On-Wheels program was perfect,” says Patty Howe, community and public relations manager at Al’s Garden Center and Greenhouses. “Meals-On-Wheels had a distribution system already in place. Al’s delivered poinsettias to three of the largest Meals-On-Wheels hubs, and their drivers took a hot lunch in one hand and a poinsettia in the other to more than 800 people in their homes.”
Before poinsettias were handed out, Howe sent a press release about the event to local media. Two TV stations made appearances for local news segments, and one of the stations featured Al’s as its feel-good story of the night to cap the broadcast. Howe says the news anchors even made a couple of unscripted comments at the end of the story saying what a great garden center Al’s was for making the donation.
The donation to Loaves & Fishes Centers isn’t the first time Al’s has reached out with excess plants. Howe has developed a list of organizations over the last year that are willing to accept less-than perfect plants. And most are willing to pick them up from Al’s property with less than a day’s notice.
“Last spring, for example, it rained a lot here and we had some tomatoes that sat on the table longer than we would have liked,” Howe says. “Rather than put those back into recycling, we found organizations that wanted them, like community gardens that serve low-income areas.”
Growers and retailers might grit their teeth over the thought of giving plants away. It’s not the first approach either prefers to take. But, if plants get to the point of no sale, there’s still the possibility of making impressions on potential customers.
It only takes one leggy plant or a leftover Easter lily to make an impression, Howe says. If you’re a grower-retailer, those impressions build your store name. And even if you’re a wholesale grower, a donation could result in the start of a lifelong hobby for consumers who might never appreciate gardening otherwise.
“The donations go so far. A local school to work program established a gardening program, and we’ve donated items to support it,” says Howe, who shared a letter from a student who benefited from a donation. “It’s honestly not that much of an effort and it goes a long way.”