Springing Into Bloom

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Springing Into Bloom

Several growers said they’ve had success promoting gift
plants like these that can be planted in the garden later for
extended enjoyment. Proven Winners’ Spring Magic
varieties (above) are cold hardy and bred to perform in
containers -perfect for early spring holidays like Easter.

This is our first attempt to assess trends in the winter and spring blooming potted plant market, mostly tied to holiday sales for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day. For many years we have presented results from our post-season poinsettia survey in February and bedding plant survey in September. Another one we would like to add is on fall crops later this year.

Our survey was successfully delivered to about 700 random blooming potted plant growers with 37 responses representing about 5 percent. These respondents represent 23 states. While half are both wholesale growers and grower retailers, one fourth are strictly wholesale, and the remaining fourth grow for their own retail only.

They range in size from operations with just a few thousand square feet of greenhouses that are only open from April through October to a Top 100 Growers operation that has more than 900,000 square feet in greenhouse production. While the average size is 112,000 square feet, the median size is 39,000 square feet, just under an acre.

The crop mix grown is very diverse, with growers producing nearly 40 different crops listed to varying degrees. By far, the top five blooming potted crops being produced are geraniums, begonias, perennials, herbs and gerberas. Most of our respondents consider themselves bedding and garden plant growers who also produce blooming potted plants. Only four consider themselves true blooming potted plant specialists.

Most buy in plugs and liners and sow seed, and less than half also buy in unrooted cuttings or take cuttings from their own stock plants. Half buy in bulbs, one third buy in prefinished plants, and just a few buy in tissue culture. About half produce two crop turns between January and May with some producing more, and others only one turn because they fire up greenhouses later.

Market Trends

The retail customer of choice is independent garden centers, with 20 of our respondents selling to those, followed by nine selling to florists. Other indicated customer bases include box stores, chain stores, churches, farmers markets, interiorscapers, landscapers, plant stores, roadside stands, specialty shops, wholesalers and their own retail garden center.

One aspect that was surprising is how much variation there is on price. There was no commonality at all or price points you would think would stick in people’s minds as the right tiers for a certain size pot. Perhaps this is due to the fact that we are covering a broad range of crops versus pricing for specific crops like poinsettias or geraniums. This was the case in both retail and wholesale pricing. For a statistical summary, see Pinpointing Price on the right.

We also asked growers for strategies they use to add value and make plants retail ready. On the growing side, responses include:

- Planting more plants per pot.

- Allowing more bench time for a fuller finished size

- Planting combinations

- Adding slow-release fertilizer

- Premium quality with decorative wraps and bows

- Using colored pots and decorative pots

- Branding

- Using eco pots

Most do use packaging to dress up the plants for these key holiday sales. Foil wrap and pot covers dominate, accented by tags, ribbons, bows and gift cards. Decorative baskets and pots also are popular upgrades. 

Holiday Promotions

One thing we discovered is Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day promotions aren’t nearly as important as Easter and Mother’s Day. Part of it is because some grower-retailers aren’t open in the winter. St. Patrick’s Day is pretty much limited to oxalis, the signature plant. One retailer added Blarney stones and incorporated some of the newer colored oxalis instead of just green.

Valentine’s Day retail presentations and crops included:

- Cyclamen wrapped with a balloon and candy stick for $20

- Tulips and hyacinths in a double basket with a spring plaid bow for $27.99

- Love trees

- Forced bulbs

- Mini roses

One grower-retailer who goes all out says, “We sell cut flowers but do a nice job with orchid plants that we augment with terracotta, branches, reindeer moss and No. 40 French ribbon priced at $70-100. Bulb gardens are also nice. Men want a difference from roses but still spend the same amount of $70-100, so we have ideas for them.”

Easter and Mother’s Day promotions are pretty similar with a focus on big, blooming potted plants, combination planters and hanging baskets. This is where spring really kicks in and there is equal interest in garden plants and gift plants. Lilies, hydrangeas and roses are especially popular.

Easter-specific retail promotions include:

- Easter baskets in pastel colors with a selection of annuals and Easter lilies

- Bunny and chick decorations in plants, foil wrapped with ribbons

- Easter egg hunt

- Church sales

Ideas our readers shared for Mother’s Day include:

- Mixed containers in decorative clay pots filled with specialty annuals and highlighted with Happy Mother’s Day picks

- Hanging basket promotions at farm markets

- Encouraging children to “plant a flower for mom”

- Open houses and events including music and food

We also asked growers how the timing of Easter affects production. When Easter falls late, space is tight for spring bedding production. An early Easter leads to increased heating costs for earlier production. But if Easter is the first week of April, growers can get an additional crop turn for Mother’s Day.

We also asked growers if they have had success promoting gift plants that can be planted in the garden later for extended enjoyment. Fourteen said they have. Effective strategies include:

- Planting perennials in combination pots

- Promoting the concept with signage and tags. (This has worked great with hydrangeas, mini roses and tree roses in fancy pots.)

- Having cool crops ready as soon as the snow melts, including euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost,’ heather, campanula, herbs, primrose and ranunculus.

As we went to press, we were attending the California Pack Trials, where breeders shared all kinds of ideas for upgrading plants at retail and positioning them for new uses.

For complete coverage, check out our Pack Trials coverage online at www.greenhousegrower.com and stay tuned for our June issue.

Delilah Onofrey directs Flower Power Marketing for the Suntory Collection. She can be reached at donofrey@gmail.com

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