Three Gardening Dilemmas

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Three Gardening Dilemmas

Who is fooling who with these 4-inch pots? Or, how do I determine the best minimum pot size for sales to retail outlets?

These questions always come up when 2- to 4-inch containers are discussed. The great myth out there is that there actually is such a thing as a 4-inch pot. I used to teach my students about container sizes, but when we received four different sizes from four different distributors–all under the guise of 4-inch pots–I knew the minds of our future leaders would be forever muddled.

We found increased use of pony pots compared to jumbos, yet both were sold as the same size. Should the choice be based on price or how many of those little suckers one can squeeze into a 1020 tray, or onto a bench? Or, shouldn’t we use the smallest container we can get away with to reduce soil volume and bench time? What to do?

The answer: The intent of the product is to be sold to a retailer, then to the consumer. Therefore, why not use the container size to make their job easier rather than yours. Retailers cannot take care of a standard 4-inch pot, let alone a fake 4-inch one. They are much more able to maintain a jumbo pack rather than a pony pack. If retailers ask for pony packs or reduced 4-inch sizes, they must be told that the larger the container, the easier it is for the consumer to succeed.

The bottom line here is that gardening must be as foolproof as we can make it. A jumbo size, or at least an honest 4-inch pot, is simply a better plant with a better root that will be better able to take the abuse of weekend gardeners. I don’t think we realize the ultimate judge, jury and executioner of our product is the weekend gardener. Faking a 4 inch as a 3 or 2 and reducing a jumbo to a pony simply gives gardeners reason to fail. And why would we want that?

Gardening Is Expensive

This one will get me into trouble, for sure. However, being surrounded by the products we grow, we sometimes forget how expensive a flat of pansies or a gallon container of columbine actually is. Most of you have gardens consisting of what you can get out of the greenhouse or nursery–at a significant discount, perhaps even free.

Wherever I speak, I talk of the value, not the price, of the plants consumers buy. I know that and you know that, but gardening still requires money. And in these times, money is not necessarily in high supply. So please realize people are shelling out lots of money for our material, and we sometimes forget how quickly it adds up. What to do?

The answer: Get out and shop for plants for your own garden to see what I mean. It is an expensive jungle out there. After you shop, you will have additional incentive to grow the best product in the best container so garden failure is almost impossible. If you sell junk and the gardener fails, you are hurting all of us. If the product succeeds, the issue of price essentially disappears. That does not make gardening any less expensive, but it surely makes it a much better perceived value.

People Want Short & Compact

If you have attended the California Spring Trials or talked with breeders about the next great bedding plant, the terms “short” and “compact” always come up. For landscape plants, the argument is justified both for shipping and landscaping reasons. However, don’t for a moment believe that gardeners share the same enthusiasm about this short and compact stuff.

One only has to look at the steep rise in the perennial market and the specialty annual markets to know people are looking for more than short and compact. Ask any self-respecting gardener about size, and it quickly becomes apparent fewer short and compact plants are being used and more larger plant species are being sought. What to do?

The answer: Visit private or public gardens on a weekend to get a feel for what people are gardening. Most communities have a garden weekend, and hopefully all of us know at least one serious gardener. It sounds like a difficult thing to do, but you may even enjoy it. It will quickly become obvious that the public is demanding more diversity of size and color.

If the greenhouse industry doesn’t provide the plants the public wants, the nursery industry will. Use of gallon containers, or at least jumbo packs, and branching into perennials and specialty annuals compliments the short and compact syndrome.

Allan Armitage (allan@greenhouse grower.com) is a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.

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    4 comments on “Three Gardening Dilemmas

    1. Anonymous

      “Gardening IS Expensive”! Finally a point I agree with Allan on. Anyone who has worked at greenhouse or nursery knows that when it comes time to give away, or more often throw away, the excess inventory, everyone outside of upper management runs to the pile to get their freebies. And we grab all we can fit into our car (and it’s often medium to poor quality). Why? Because decent garden plants ARE expensive, even at the box store. Most greenhouse employees, growers, and even some middle management have a hard time paying for garden plants, because they know at some point there will be a giveaway. Senior growers and upper management take what they want whenever. I guess Henry Ford said he wanted his employees to be able to afford his product. I’m not sure that most greenhouse workers think they can afford, or justify, the price of the product at retail. I pay for plant varieties that I don’t grow, but this Spring I might splurge on some of our company’s own product. Henry Ford also said, “It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”

    2. Anonymous

      I am one of probably many who agree with Dr. Armitage on a great many things. I think he is on the money here again. In business I always tried to use the KISS system to run things. When you have virtually the same , or seemingly so, plants in 5 different containers you create confusion. And he is right. We give the homeowner a way to fail by confusing the issue. If they leave confused we may never see them again. And Joe Grower is exactly right…”The customer pays the wages.”

    3. Anonymous

      “Gardening IS Expensive”! Finally a point I agree with Allan on. Anyone who has worked at greenhouse or nursery knows that when it comes time to give away, or more often throw away, the excess inventory, everyone outside of upper management runs to the pile to get their freebies. And we grab all we can fit into our car (and it’s often medium to poor quality). Why? Because decent garden plants ARE expensive, even at the box store. Most greenhouse employees, growers, and even some middle management have a hard time paying for garden plants, because they know at some point there will be a giveaway. Senior growers and upper management take what they want whenever. I guess Henry Ford said he wanted his employees to be able to afford his product. I’m not sure that most greenhouse workers think they can afford, or justify, the price of the product at retail. I pay for plant varieties that I don’t grow, but this Spring I might splurge on some of our company’s own product. Henry Ford also said, “It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”

    4. Anonymous

      I am one of probably many who agree with Dr. Armitage on a great many things. I think he is on the money here again. In business I always tried to use the KISS system to run things. When you have virtually the same , or seemingly so, plants in 5 different containers you create confusion. And he is right. We give the homeowner a way to fail by confusing the issue. If they leave confused we may never see them again. And Joe Grower is exactly right…”The customer pays the wages.”