Tapping Into Green Roofs

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The depressed housing market and the lagging economy have been an overwhelming one-two punch to the nursery industry’s gut over these last few years. Prominent businesses have closed, others have filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy and the rest have been left to scrounge up whatever share of the market they can find.

Growth has been difficult to achieve, but a number of greenhouse and nursery growers have positioned themselves for growth by breaking ground in green roofs, an area growers have typically been slow to embrace here in the United States. The growers who are embracing green roofs are finding the market to be a slowly developing one, but incorporating green roofs as a niche offering has helped a number of growers weather the economic storm that’s swept up some of their competitors.

“Green roofs have definitely been helpful the last couple years when things have been tough in the nursery business,” says Mike Edelbach, operations manager at Twixwood Nursery in Berrien Springs, Mich. “To have a new product, different projects and the idea that we’re on the roof rather than on the ground, it’s an exciting area to be part of.”

Commercial and industrial properties have been green roof growers’ primary targets, but another market with intriguing possibilities is consumers. Twixwood showcased its Eco-Roofs tray system earlier this year at the Mid-Am Trade Show in Chicago, where a 6 by 10-foot box that resembled a green roof was a key component of its booth. A number of exhibitors stopped by to check out the model and expressed their interest as consumers.

“It was interesting how many people came up and were asking if they could do this in their backyard,” he says. “Whether it was the guy selling shade cloth or tractors, it was somebody saying this is cool and I want to do it at my house. There are people dying to do this. We’ve got to do a better job figuring out how to get this to the end user.”

An Untapped Market

Rooftop gardening isn’t exactly a groundbreaking phenomenon–historians date the first roof gardens back a couple thousand years–but growers have never capitalized on them because a mass market has never really existed. Or so we thought.

Comments like the ones Edelbach heard are encouraging. So is the increasing number of green roof installations at commercial and industrial properties. The more green roofs are installed in urban areas, the more consumers see those green roofs and are encouraged to install mini versions at home.

It’s doubtful the majority of roofs in your neighborhood will be greened in the coming years, partly because sloped roofs present their own set of challenges. But greening garages, upstairs patios and sheds is feasible if consumers are willing to pay for such unique landscapes.

Still, the cost of greening the garage or upstairs patio is a high one considering consumers are covering far less surface area than commercial and industrial buildings, but several growers are exploring ways to make green roofs financially feasible for both consumers and their businesses. In the meantime, some growers are moving ahead with green roofs for consumers because they believe a market already exists.

“We offer a product that can be customized,” says Michael Wisshack, general manager at Blooming Nursery in Cornelius, Ore. “Let’s say you want something unique to your house: You go to a lumber company and look at different designs for your kitchen or bathroom. You don’t want something on the shelf but rather something that’s unique.”

Kevin Yanik is the former managing editor of Greenhouse Grower.

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