Don’t grit your teeth just yet. It’s certainly not the most pleasant thought if you’re a wholesale grower or a grower/retailer, but there’s no avoiding the fact something needs to be done with your excess plants once they’ve passed the sellable point.
Most times, the unsaleable are likely pitched into a dumpster, stacked onto a compost mountain or tossed into a plant pit somewhere outside your greenhouse. A plant’s life doesn’t have to end because it’s less than perfect, though. Sure, the plant lost its potential to make you a profit, but it still has value in somebody’s garden as a local donation or giveaway – and your good will could indirectly lead to profits later on.
Even if profits won’t be had, your donation is a great promotion of all your products and our entire industry. Just think of all the people who could view your plants in a public garden?
“The best thing would be to take our plants and use them as plants and not turn them into mulch or compost,” says Alan Shapiro, owner of Grandiflora, a wholesale nursery in Gainesville, Fla. “When you see things are getting a little long in the tooth, wouldn’t it be better to have a list of organizations you could call?”
Over the years, Shapiro developed a list of organizations to which he donates. The list includes city, county and regional beautification boards, a botanical garden, parks, churches, schools, universities and charities like Habitat For Humanity, Ronald McDonald House and Hospice.
Shapiro didn’t develop the list overnight. He is, however, constantly asked to donate plants, so he figured it made sense to be proactive and set up a network for people to pick up plants that might otherwise become mulch or compost.
“I think all these little donations added together lift the human spirit,” Shapiro says. “It’s not a massive ‘wow’ thing. It’s just a lot of little things that enhance our quality of life.”
Patty Howe, community and public relations manager at Al’s
“The good will of donating so far exceeds the option of dumping,” Howe says. “We have a call list, of community gardens, churches and schools around three of our stores, and we’ll share plants that are a little ‘too leggy’ to sell.”
Because Howe has developed close ties between Al’s and community organizations, most recipients are even willing to return pots for recycling. There’s also potential for publicity in a local newspaper or TV station, she says.
Hooked On A Feeling
For a wholesale grower like Grandiflora, the reward of donating excess or less-than-perfect plants is a good feeling because there’s no tax incentive. For a grower/retailer like Al’s, the reward is that feeling plus the potential of actual future business.
Every fall, Al’s 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
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 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.
“Meals-On-Wheels had a distribution system already in place,” Howe says. “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 gesture Al’s donation was.
When To Abandon Ship
As rewarding as donations may be for both parties, growers don’t want to get in the habit of donating sellable plants. You’re in business to sell first, and giveaways should be looked at as a last, yet necessary, resort. Because the consumer’s buying habits rapidly change throughout the year, knowing when to give up is the key to making a profit and building good will.
“If you have pansies in mid-February in
The same goes for begonias in June or poinsettias well into December: Why compost a plant that has potential in a public garden?
Donating obviously isn’t the first approach growers prefer 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. If you’re a grower/retailer, those impressions build your name. And even if you’re a wholesale grower, a donation could result in the beautification of your community or the start of a lifelong hobby for a rookie gardener.
"The donations go so far,” Howe says. “It’s honestly not that much of an effort and it goes a long way.”