Natives Are A Competitive Advantage At Homestead Gardens

Homestead Gardens Perennial Area
Homestead Gardens’ buyers select native perennials that will not become invasive within its delicate coastal and river region.

Native plant sales have become a big part of our success at Homestead Gardens, due in large part to our location. We are next to the Chesapeake Bay and Severn River near Annapolis, Md. When any of the homes in Anne Arundel County that are along the river begin a landscaping project, they have to reforest with native plants. It’s a county law. Based on the amount of landscaping they do, they have to reforest with many trees and shrubs.

On our website, we have a link to “Marylanders Plant Trees” (trees.maryland.gov), a state-run program that offers tips on the proper native trees to plant along with a coupon to our stores and others that participate in the program.

As a result, we attract a lot of business from these waterfront homes. It’s made natives a category that has increased every year that we’ve been open.

We Commit To The Category

We have two locations: our main store is in Davidsonville and our smaller second store, where I am the nursery manager, is in Severna Park.

At the Severna Park location, I have all the natives in one area where people can shop for that entire category in one spot. I try to give it as much size as any other individual category, although it’s growing quickly enough that it now has more space than my azalea department. It takes up a fair percentage of our plant yard, about 10 percent overall.

I try to display all the native trees with the shrubs. To draw attention to it, we have included concrete statues of a Maryland Terrapin, a popular mascot in our area.

A lot of people are stunned that we have the native selection that we do and how much they can choose from. Most people are used to seeing two to three options at the other stores they might visit. They come here and there’s 50.

Lately, our best-selling varieties are the ones that attract birds, such as serviceberries and viburnums. Any plant that is tied to outdoor birding is becoming more popular. These varieties may include Amelanchier ‘Autumn Brilliance,’ Cornus sericea ‘Baileyi,’ Cornus alba ‘Ivory Halo,’  Viburnum nudum ‘Brandywine’ and Viburnum dentatum ‘Blue Muffin.’

We maintain about the same margin for our native plants that we do for the rest of our materials. Just-in-time deliveries tend to work best for us. We use about 10 to 12 different vendors for this category. All of them offer natives along with several other plant types.

We Help Our Customers Make The Right Decision

Because our county is giving many of our local residents a list of shrubs to choose from, we have a built-in customer base. They simply have to decide which to buy, and we can help them make this decision.

In many cases, they’ll want northern or southern-type native plants, things that don’t handle our conditions well. A lot of it is based on where they grew up around the country. I try to steer them toward trees and shrubs that are hardier for our local climate.

Water restrictions are always possible in our area, although it’s been a few years since they were enacted by the county. If Northern Virginia or Southern Maryland experience a drought during the summer, watering regulations may be put into effect. This is when having those native plants in the landscape can be beneficial.

We will soon be doing more marketing on our website for our native selections. We have a new web designer, and he is creating a section that will list the native plants we carry.

Customer Service After Planting

In the summer of 2002, Homestead Gardens hired Gene Sumi as its garden horticulturist. Sumi, who started working at an early age in his father’s landscape maintenance business in Garden Grove, Calif., had worked for many years with the Behnke Nurseries Company in Beltsville, Md.

Today, Sumi is the educational coordinator at Homestead Gardens, where he manages educational programs to benefit customers and staff. Included in these programs are garden seminars and workshops held on and off the nursery premises, coordinating group tours at Homestead Gardens and overseeing the Golden Spades, a gardening group for senior gardeners that meets monthly at Homestead Gardens’ Davidsonville and Severna Park locations.

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