Why Perennials Are So Important To Buchanan’s Native Plants

Jamie Mihalcik1
Jamie Mihalcik

Our retail customers know we may be priced slightly higher than other nurseries in town, but they also know we have plenty of staff on hand to help them choose the right plants and offer follow-up advice in the weeks and months to come.

Our Inventory Changes With The Season

Even though perennials are a cornerstone of our sales, we do not lock ourselves into a specific space allotment for the department’s size. We need to be flexible and respond to customer demand. The perennial department’s size depends on the season. In the spring and summer, much more space is dedicated to the department, while in the winter, it gets a very small portion of overall retail space.

In addition to plants, we also sell hardgoods, pottery and outdoor living, and we have a gift department. Our tropical, annual and hardgood departments stay the same size year round. From Thanksgiving through Christmas, we sell cut trees, and the space allotted for perennials diminishes from about 2800 square feet to 500 square feet. We start to reduce inventory about six weeks before Thanksgiving and begin restocking in mid-to-late February

We strive for a 65 percent gross profit margin (GPM) in perennials, although this is sometimes difficult due to shipping costs and the fact that we place small, but frequent orders. We typically end up with about a 62 percent GPM overall, which is comparable to our annuals, herbs and vegetables. Tropicals have higher GPM, while trees, shrubs and roses fall a bit lower.

We book some of the perennials four to five months in advance. Most of the booked material includes our pesticide-free milkweed program, daylilies, seasonal vines and perennial hibiscus — plants we have difficulty finding in the numbers we need during peak spring sales season. We also place orders on a weekly basis from late February through November, depending on current available and plant needs.

We have found vendors that are good at growing crops to specifications we want. In order to ensure we have the plants we need when we need them, bookings are the way to go. Some of the bookings are also vendor driven; they provide us with crops they are growing in the fall, and based on local demand, adjust their propagation plans.

We receive perennials from about 15 to 20 different growers, most of which are located in Texas and Louisiana. Treesearch Farms has a great variety of native, standard and lesser-known perennials in production. They are located fairly close and have a low shipping rate, allowing us to receive orders on a weekly basis.

We Offer Advice

We want to be able to offer our customers a wide selection of native and adapted perennials — plants that provide habitat for bees, butterflies and birds. We have many residential customers that come for advice and also landscape architects and contractors looking for hard-to-find material to finish their projects.

We are located in an older historic district full of renovated bungalows and newer high-density living. The neighborhood has undergone a lot of revitalization over the past 15 years and many of our customers are young families and single people. We do occasionally get a contractor or landscape architect looking for plant material, but our customer base is mainly residential.

Most customers are interested in low-maintenance, colorful designs that also offer some resources for butterflies, bees, etc. In addition, many customers are working with small spaces, and they come in with ideas for containers or a limited plot of land within their landscape.

It is important to know the mature size of a perennial. We help customers understand the need for proper spacing.

After asking questions about sun, shade, height and area, we are able to come up with several options for the customers to choose from.

Our Focus Is On Customer Experience and Plant Promotion

We have a sun and shade area to help customers decide on the correct plants for their sunlight conditions. The perennials are interspersed with the shrubs and small trees. We have benches that raise the 4-inch, quart and gallon perennials up to waist high — a shoppable level, while many of the 3-gallon plants are displayed on the ground or on very low tables.

We are able to cross promote plants through events such as grower visits, garden tours and in-house guest speaker events with our staff and retail customers.

We have a perennial of the week (POW) program that runs May to August. This is a time when many perennials come into peak bloom and look their best.

We promote one plant each week in a mass display with signage and a small discount. We also have:

  • A marquee sign in the front of the store that lists the plant.
  • Weekly eMail newsletters that note any hot perennials and other goings on
  • A link on our website to ‘plants in stock’ for easy searching before customers stop by the nursery.
  • In-store signage to help with plant identification and important growing facts.
    During the POW program, our staff is able to really learn about the POW, which helps them sell the benefits of the plant.

Advising Customers On Pests

When customers come to staff members in search of advice about pests, we generally suggest insecticidal soap. We usually ask customers to bring in a sample of the pest or a picture of the pest for identification.

Most common pests include aphids, spider mites and mealybugs. The insecticidal soap offers a control method without a residual that would affect other visiting insects. For milkweed in particular, we just suggest applying live ladybugs (which we sell during the warm season), or spraying the plants with a sharp stream of water to dislodge the aphids.

We recommend an organic approach or the least toxic method of control to minimize long-lasting effects of the product on the landscape.

As far as fertilizer, we do get some specific requests, but we also recommend compost or The Ground Up Vitamulch as topdressing to help the soil and add nutrients for the plant to use. For fertilizer, we sell a great deal of MicroLife and John’s Recipe.

We often see most pests and problems with perennials planted in poor soil conditions. Starting with good soil leads to healthy roots, which in turn leads to a healthy plant.

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