6 Things Every Gardener Wants In Plant Varieties (opinion)

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Promote deer-resistant plants so consumers don't end up with plants looking like these hostas.

Spring has sprung in most areas of the country, and hopefully, landscapers, gardeners and retailers have a little more spring in their step. But even though the season is bringing in much-appreciated orders and cash, it’s important to remember to provide customers with plants suited to their needs.

The Cultivar Is King, But Not To  Everyone

We live in a cultivar world. Every plant that is bred, named and patented is sold and talked about by the cultivar name. Every botanist, horticulturist, grower and retailer embraces the importance of cultivars. However, our customers at ground zero do not. My daughters are pretty typical consumers and don’t have time to worry about the name of a geranium or verbena. Unfortunately, that is true of many landscapers, who simply ask, “What’s in color?”   

I think we have all pretty much come to the same conclusion — let’s keep the decorators (like my daughters) happy, let’s keep trialing, breeding and building the best cultivars known to man and woman, and then not worry about what she calls it.

Not All Animals Are Created Equal

Ask someone who has contracted Lyme disease what he or she thinks of deer, or ask someone who has spent hundreds of dollars decorating with those special cultivars we talked about what they think about deer. It is no longer an isolated problem that we can dismiss or laugh about — deer are having a significant effect on plant sales. People ask me why I am so fired up about the new hybrid hellebores. This is a no-brainer — they are better than ever, they are colorful, they are early and deer don’t eat them. Every state has a list of deer-resistant plants. Call the Extension office and get it. Let’s market the concept of deer-proof plants.

My Daughters’ Gardens Revolve Around Their Decks

The garden of tomorrow, if not already today, is on and around the deck. While large gardens will always be found around some houses, your kids and grandkids will be spending a good percentage of their gardening dollars on enhancing the beauty of the deck and the space around the deck.

Baskets and Containers Aren’t Going Anywhere

Because they enhance the deck and the area around it, mixed baskets, which have been introduced for the last three years will only get stronger. Growers and retailers are recognizing that young people have far less time and interest in putting together a mixed basket than they have money to pay for one.

However, and a big however it is, these crappy green 12-inch plastic imposters we call baskets must go. They are too small for any maintenance but in a greenhouse — good grief, the retailers can’t even keep them alive. For these specialty combinations, use a premium basket, at least 14-inch, lined with absorbent moss or something like it. If not, we are just messing up a great concept — again.

Bring Veggies On Board

Everyone loves veggies, and we know that men want more vegetables, so let’s give them some for on and around the deck. They can be in baskets, containers and tucked away in sunny corners by the barbeque pit. Perhaps most men would rather die than give up their ‘Beefsteak’ tomatoes, but the new breeding in patio tomatoes (and peppers, strawberries, eggplants, etc.) is outstanding, and will only get better. Grafted tomatoes (who would have thought?) are neat as can be. Let’s bring to the veggie crowd the same excitement we try to foster with flowers. The breeding is here, the distribution is here and the market wants them.

Give Them The Right Plant For The Right Place
Gardeners and landscapers love shrubs.They only need to be planted once, and many require very little maintenance. Shrubs work well on decks, too, but only if they are tailored to stay short, compact and colorful. I see wonderful breeding in buddleias, hydrangeas, spireas, crepe myrtles and other easy-to-grow shrubs. Once again, let’s do this right. Let’s not sell a 6-foot tall buddleia to my daughter when we can sell her one that at maturity is only 3-feet tall.   GG

Allan Armitage was a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia for 30 years. He recently retired and remains an active consultant, author and lecturer.

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