Tender Perennials Can Create Marketing Challenges

Salvia greggii 'Mirage Neon Rose' (Darwin Perennials)
Darwin Perennials introduced the Mirage salvia series this year, which flowers continuously throughout the summer in the North.

As plant breeding breeding pushes boundaries, perennial producers continue to break with tradition. The botanical term commonly tossed around to demarcate perennials from their shorter-lived annual cousins has become difficult to pin down, at least in a marketing sense, as breeders offer more tender perennials to growers. Even more perplexing for growers — determining how to use these plants and where they profitably fit in their product mix.

What’s In A Name?

The term “tender perennial” or “temperennial” refers to plants that are perennial in tropical climates but grown as annuals in colder climates. Unfortunately, it can be misleading. The confusion relates to plant hardiness, generally associated with temperature, but which also encompasses weather extremes, soil types, and in some cases biology, says Jared Barnes, Assistant Professor of Horticulture at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, TX.

”Rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns caused by global warming play a role, too,” Barnes says. ”In short, as you go further north, gardeners will likely see tender perennials come back more often. As a result, they may begin to appear more often in landscapes and garden centers.”

First-year flowering perennials that don’t require vernalization also cause misunderstandings about tender perennials because growers can grow them more like annuals and oftentimes with the same scheduling. Cosmos atrosanguineus ‘Black Magic’ from Jelitto falls in this category. With hardiness in Zones 9 to 12, most growers will treat it as an annual.

Tender Perennials Don’t Slot Easily Into A Single Category

The confusion over what a tender perennial is or isn’t makes it difficult for growers to place them in their product lineup.

“Perennials growers don’t want to grow them because they are not hardy for all the main regions of what is considered hardy perennials. Annual growers don’t want them because they’re not familiar with them, and they don’t have the experience for these crops,” says Zoltan Kovacs, Perennial Product Manager at Dümmen Orange. “They often fall in the pot plant category because growers have no place for them in other programs because these plants belong in the annual and perennial category as well, so they don’t really belong to any program.”

Dümmen Orange focuses on perennials that are hardy for all regions, but it does have a few tender perennials this year, such as its Penstemon hartwegii Peptalk Series and Stachys byzantina ‘Belle Grigio.’ Both are hardy in Zone 7.

While many growers prefer to focus on hardy perennials, Mark Huber, Territory Manager for The Perennial Farm in Glen Arm, MD, says there is a certain demand for tender perennials that can’t be ignored. He adds that The Perennial Farm has sold out of tropical items for the year and is seeing success with non-hardy succulents, both of which fall into the tender perennial category.

Breeders like Darwin Perennials also see the value in bringing tender perennials to market. The company delved into the category after a request from its Southern customers to do more work in the Zone 7 category, says Global Products Manager Karl Batschke.

“We realized we were missing a whole group of plants that were perennials in the South, but annuals in the North because of our fairly rigid definition of what a perennial is, based on Northern hardiness,” he says.

Darwin first introduced Foxlight digitalis, which overwinters in Zone 7b conditions. This year, the company brought out the Mirage Salvia Series. Both plants flower continuously throughout the summer in the North.

“We want to offer growers more diversity and address some of their constraints by having a high-value product they can put into the market early or later,” Batschke says.

Walters Gardens is also bringing out more temperennials, like the new Mad About Mangave collection. Mangave is a relatively new hybrid cross between Manfreda and Agave. Also new is Cordyline terminalis ‘Cherry Cordial,’ a sport of ‘Chocolate Queen’ with vibrant red coloration.

Anemone 'Harmony Scarlet' (Sakata Ornamentals)
The Harmony Anemone Series (Sakata Ornamentals) has great seed availability. Growers can use it as a cool-season annual, or for their perennial programs if they are in warmer regions.

Growers Must Communicate What To Expect From Tender Perennials

Tender perennials’ biggest advantage is the flexibility they offer so growers can take advantage of early and late shoulder seasons. And they offer unique selections for decorative containers, particularly for Northern growers. One of these selections is Sakata Ornamentals’ new Harmony Anemone series. The series is Zone 7 hardy, so it can be grown with other cool-crop annuals or used for perennial programs in warmer regions.

Greg Soles, Product Representative for Darwin Perennials, says tag and point-of-purchase information is critical to defining the boundaries of a plant, and growers must clearly communicate to customers exactly what they can expect from tender perennials. Equally as important is communicating their value, because they are likely to have a higher price point than annuals.

“When you pay a lot for a perennial, even if you know it is going to die, you want to get your money’s worth by their strong performance,” says Richard Hawke, Plant Evaluation Manager for the Chicago Botanic Garden.

It isn’t too far-fetched to believe that tender perennials have the potential to sell well, Kovacs says, citing the example of consumers annually buying poinsettias and mums that they know will die.

“If someone can convince consumers of the value of these plants, it doesn’t matter if it is an annual or a perennial,” he says. “The sales will be there. Because of the added value for this interesting and exciting plant category.”

Customers Have The Ultimate Say

Still, growers might find tender perennials a hard sell to the masses. However, with good marketing and education to raise consumer awareness of their value, the hope is consumers will recognize the diversity of the product that is available to them and how tender perennials can help extend the season, says Batschke.

In the end, Kovacs recommends letting the consumer decide, saying, “I would tell growers to be open-minded. Forget that a plant is an annual or a perennial and look at what you are missing, what season you can add on, and what fits with your production schedule. Let the consumer decide if there’s a market for them or not.”

In order to increase sales of tender perennials for the future, we need to come up with new and creative programs where we can fit this category of plants, to add something new and exciting with added value to our everyday offerings.


Chicago Botanic Garden trial gardens
The field trial gardens at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

Evaluating Tender Salvias For Commercial Potential

Richard Hawke, Plant Evaluation Manager for the Chicago Botanic Garden, is making his first foray into treating a perennial like an annual. For the next three years, he will evaluate 108 cultivars of tender salvia for their performance and commercial potential in Northern markets.

Hawke will not overwinter the salvias by digging them up. Instead, he will replant salvias that do not survive the Chicago winter from stock plants in June. If any do make it through the winter, he plans to evaluate them as true perennials.
“Ultimately, we’re looking to see how these plants come through the winter,” Hawke says. “Also, to evaluate their behavior and characteristics to see if they are worth consumers spending their money on because they perform well.”

Watch for the results from Hawke’s salvia trials on ChicagoBotanic.org.

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

More From Perennials...
Miscanthus-Bandwidth EmeraldCoastGrowers

May 11, 2018

New Sterile Ornamental Grasses One Solution to Grass Invasion

Aggressive grass species can turn gardeners off to using ornamental grasses. Less fertile alternatives offer options for keeping grasses from taking over the garden.

Read More

May 10, 2018

Beekenkamp Plants Acquires Sunny Osteospermum Breeding Program

Beekenkamp took over all Sunny Holland sales activities in 2017, and now has ownership of the company’s entire breeding program.

Read More

May 6, 2018

Growing Tips From an Expert for Stokesia ‘Divinity’

'Divinity’ has large, white flowers that open with a hint of yellow in the center and then mature to a pure, long-lasting white.

Read More
Latest Stories
Miscanthus-Bandwidth EmeraldCoastGrowers

May 11, 2018

New Sterile Ornamental Grasses One Solution to Grass In…

Aggressive grass species can turn gardeners off to using ornamental grasses. Less fertile alternatives offer options for keeping grasses from taking over the garden.

Read More
Bloomify Rose lantana cultivar

April 21, 2018

How Researchers are Building Better Lantana Plants

Genetic sterilization being used to help keep these prolific perennials in place.

Read More

March 27, 2018

Online Classes Offer Pointers on Herbaceous Perennials

The courses, presented by Allan Armitage, can help growers, retailers, and landscapers learn more about plant origin, characteristics, bloom time, flower structure, and optimum growing conditions.

Read More

March 2, 2018

How to Keep Your Perennials Healthy and Disease-Free

Disease control through scouting, chemical rotation, and disease-resistant plants is essential to keep your perennials in top-notch shape.

Read More
Helleborus Frostkiss Penny's Pink

February 24, 2018

Allan Armitage on Hot New Perennials for 2018

Here are some of the perennials Armitage thinks may increase in value in 2018.

Read More

October 17, 2017

14 New Shrubs With Fringe Benefits

What’s popular with shrubs? Consumers want varieties that will give them more return on their investment, in terms of long-lasting blooms and multi-season appeal that lasts from spring until fall and at times stretches into the winter months. Here are 14 new varieties of shrubs and sub-shrubs to consider for your product mix in 2018.

Read More
Azalea Encore Autumn Bonfire

October 4, 2017

Big Changes on the Horizon for Woody Ornamentals

The future looks bright for the woody ornamentals market, with exciting new varieties in the pipeline that will offer greater disease resistance, cold hardiness, bloom capacity, and more.

Read More
Hydrangea 'Berry White' (Bailey Nurseries)

October 2, 2017

Woody Ornamentals Market Set for Growth

The woody ornamentals market is looking up. Now, out-of-the box thinking about product offerings and consumer education will keep things moving in the right direction.

Read More

July 20, 2017

New Perennials, Trial Gardens, and Merchandising Were H…

Darwin Perennials Day has steadily become one of the must-attend perennial events of the summer. This year, even the weather cooperated.

Read More
Jonathan Babikow, Emerald Coast Growers

June 9, 2017

New Head Grower at Emerald Coast Growers is Excited abo…

Jonathan Babikow, Emerald Coast Growers’ new general manager/head grower for its Lancaster, PA, location, talks about his favorite perennials, the advantages of growing in Pennsylvania, and his future hopes for his career.

Read More
Eason Horticultural Resources Hot New Perennials Booklet

June 6, 2017

Eason Horticultural Resources Releases New Perennials B…

“Hot New Perennials for 2018” is a compilation of information shared with Eason from a broad range of perennial young plant producers, breeding companies, and breeder representatives.

Read More
2016 Perennial Plant Of The Year Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’

May 24, 2017

What to Expect at the Perennial Plant Symposium in Denv…

The Perennial Plant Association’s annual Symposium takes place July 23-28 in Denver, CO, and features 28 educational sessions, six local tours, and a trade show.

Read More
Asclepias tuberosa

April 29, 2017

Greenhouse Growing Tips for Asclepias tuberosa

Madeline Maynor, Growing Operations Manager for Landenberg, PA-based North Creek Nurseries, shares greenhouse growing tips for Asclepias tuberosa, the 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year.

Read More
Hydrangea paniculata First Editions Diamond Rouge (Bailey Nurseries)

March 28, 2017

Shrubs, Subshrubs, and Groundcovers from California Spr…

We asked breeders to share with us pictures and information on some of the shrubs, subshrubs, and groundcovers that you'll see at California Spring Trials 2017. They didn't let you down.

Read More
Spin Top Gaillardia Series (Dummen Orange)

March 22, 2017

New Perennials and Tender Perennials for 2018 from Cali…

We asked breeders to share with us pictures and information on some of the true perennials and tender perennials that you'll see at California Spring Trials 2017. Here's a sampling of some of the varieties hitting retail shelves in 2018.

Read More
Pennisetum First Knight Feature

March 11, 2017

Now is the Time for Growers to Plan for Fall Perennial …

If you haven’t already put in your orders for the items you’ll sell this fall, it’s time to start now.

Read More

January 9, 2017

Growing Tips for Craspedia ‘Golf Beauty’

Laura Robles of Mast Young Plants offers advice on ‘Golf Beauty,’ a novelty plant with can’t-miss yellow flower heads and silver foliage that blooms throughout the summer.

Read More
Coreopsis 'Madras Magic' (Terra Nova Nurseries)

October 17, 2016

New 2016 Perennial Introductions For Zone 6 And Up

Some perennials are at their best in warmer climates, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be used in colder areas for season-specific containers or grown with cool-crop annuals to add some unique offerings to a product mix. Here are 11 new introductions hitting retail in 2017 that are hardy in Zone 6 and up.

Read More