Amaryllis, cyclamen, Christmas cacti, hydrangeas, callas, orchids, foliage, succulents, and poinsettias. What do they all have in common? Consumers are looking a bit more broadly when it comes to decorating for the holidays. While poinsettias are still a holiday home décor staple appreciated for the tradition they impart, other blooming potted plants not traditionally marketed during the winter holidays are getting attention, as well.
Why is this? Indoor gardening brings some of the natural world inside, to soften and accent home décor with splashes of color and vibrance that help consumers get through the dreary, cold months. Traditionally, consumers have been most familiar with using cut flowers to fill this need, but blooming potted plants typically last longer than cut flowers and are less expensive, so they offer a good value.
There’s also generally more awareness, with plant enthusiasts all over social media. Blooming potted plants for the holiday season are ideal for this platform, says Bill Calkins of Ball Seed Co.
“They look cool, can be decorated for the holidays, add a living, fresh element to any setting, and have an Instagram-worthy appearance,” he says.
The boost in blooming plants could also be due to more availability, with growers branching out and looking to expand their offerings in a market that’s been crowded with high-cost, low-profit poinsettias during the holidays. And while houseplants are trending, it’s a good time to push blooming potted plants, says Mariah Holland with Metrolina Greenhouses.
“We are seeing a resurgence in the traditional blooming market with younger demographics and the uptick on foliage,” she says. “The trend seems to be with longer-lasting products that provide more enjoyment for consumers. This is definitely the time to ride the foliage trend and make the old new again.”
Low-Maintenance Trophy Plants Offer Best of Both Worlds
Similar to their houseplant counterparts, blooming potted plants offer the low-effort, high-reward scenario that consumers are craving, says Kelly Norris with the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.
“There are fewer barriers to success and maybe less guilt about keeping it alive when you already perceive it as something with a definitive bloom season,” he says.
Amaryllis is a prime example of this, with affordable price points that offer a strong value proposition for consumers. “For what you can buy a cut amaryllis stem for, you might as well spend a couple bucks more for the bulb, and get two to three successive rounds of flowers,” Norris says.
Amaryllis has become a consumer favorite, which Norris attributes to a combination of beauty, nostalgia, and the plant’s practical benefits and rewards. “Simply potting a bulb up around Thanksgiving and watching it evolve feeds a desire for instant gratification,” he says.
Anthony van Hoven of Battlefield Farms agrees.
“Amaryllis are big because they are absolutely no work,” he says. “Consumers can buy a bulb and set it out on a windowsill or on a table. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a well-lit room or a room with no windows. No matter what age range, consumers like that they expend as little effort as possible and they still get a win. All they have to do is enjoy it.”
Amaryllis has been a favorite showcase at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden since Jan. 2013, when the garden was established as a non-profit, and Norris potted up a giant container of amaryllis and cut twigs for the occasion.
“Each holiday since, we’ve curated around 40 varieties pushing close to 1,000 bulbs that cycle in and out of containers and in-ground plantings throughout the conservatory and Gardeners Showhouse,” Norris says. “People want more, more, more. Every year the general consumer response is, ‘Why do the amaryllis have to stop?’ We shift our curatorial focus each year, but generally try to showcase novelty varieties or something different than the standard color offerings. There’s not a ton of breeding going on in Hippeastrum — just enough in my opinion – so selecting new varieties from wholesale sources isn’t overwhelming, and we can always round out the display with a healthy cast of old favorites for people to enjoy.”
Appeal to Consumers’ Emotions and Senses
Growers who can accommodate both old and new favorites into their programs will have success selling more plants, says QiuXia Chen of Dümmen Orange.
“We should appreciate that following tradition is very common with our customer base,” Chen says. “Trends that we are tracking include mixed crop combinations, such as incorporating poinsettias with other holiday greenery, or combining a kalanchoe with succulents.”
Barbara Jeffery-Gibson of Jeffery’s Greenhouses says these mixed planters with blooming potted plants like poinsettias and cyclamen mixed with foliage are an important part of holiday sales.
Jillanne Johnson of Kurt Weiss Greenhouses agrees, adding that “gamechanger” poinsettia varieties like ‘Princettia White’ are enhancing the holiday market and contributing to sales.
The use of evergreen plants has made an exciting entrance to the market, from Norfolk Island pines to wacky Grinch-type plants. Fragrant plants like lavender and rosemary topiaries are becoming favorites for the holidays, as well.
“Scent is a desirable holiday décor component that appeals to existing consumers and draws in new demographics,” Chen says.
Calkins says Christmas cactus is trending, possibly following the popularity of succulents, and cyclamen are gaining in popularity, as well.
“Cyclamen are beautiful and tend to look very fresh at retail during the holidays,” he says. “New genetics in the fringed and silverleaf types are amazing.”
There’s definitely more diversity in holiday crops available at retail, which is good, but Norris says the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden strives to jazz up the holidays with a lot of education and teaching and holiday display, aiming to satisfy emotional needs and desires.
“I often tell my staff, the holidays are pure horticultural exposition — it needs to be sparkly, pretty, and just beautiful,” Norris says. “Our team even experimented with Sarracenia (pitcher plant) wreaths that were part of our living wall, just to showcase something different.”
Seize the Potential for Gifts and Indoor Gardening
The gift plant market is one that thrives in some areas of the country and is relatively nonexistent in others, depending on growers and their positioning in the supply chain, Norris says.
“I like to keep an ear and eye on the transactional side of the business,” he says. “I’m floored by how low the bar is in some markets. Does that mean consumers aren’t buying anything else or is there nothing else to buy? I firmly believe that really well grown, novelty plants or varieties at the holidays plays to the emotion of the season.”
Historically low-margin blooming plants like poinsettias and mums have commoditized the blooming plant category, but there is plenty of opportunity available for growers, says Tamara Risken of J. Berry Nursery.
“Attractive, sustainable packaging, creating a personal connection and positive experience via brand messaging, and all the new plant breeding focused on extending the window of enjoyment for consumers are opportunities for the gift market,” she says.
Ideas that make plants simpler to care for, like Green Circle Growers’ Just Add Ice orchid program, and easier to acquire, like self-gift subscription services such as Lunarly that pair plants with other items, have proven successful in selling more plants, says Delilah Onofrey with Suntory Flowers. More can be done in this space to provide plants with personality that consumers can identify with, she says.
“Blooming potted plant specialists are in the best position to execute sales year round,” Onofrey says.
Jeffery-Gibson says it’s hard to try to be everything to everyone, so growers wanting to experiment with selling a wider variety of blooming potted plants shouldn’t feel pressured to produce everything themselves.
“It makes a lot of sense to buy from others who specialize in certain crops that can complement your assortment,” she says. “This is certainly a safer way to test the waters and see what sells first.”
Packaging Sells Plants
All things considered, consumers don’t want to buy plants in black pots, and much of the recent excitement in potted plants can be attributed to packaging upgrades, Johnson says.
“Consumers want to use plants as home décor items that match the styles of their homes,” she says. “If that plant has an additional purpose, whether culinary, air-purifying, or tied to cause-related marketing, it is icing on the cake.”
Packaging helps inform consumers, providing care instructions and more, Holland says.
“It’s all about telling the story of the plants, setting the expectations, and upselling with fun packaging!”
Whether new or traditional, offering plants with embellishments makes sales easier for growers and unique for shoppers, says Lau.
“Traditionalists can find the items they love, but have a new experience with decorative pots, wraps, and picks,” Lau says. “Grab-n-go packaging is important so plants arrive at their destination without damage. Not all shoppers are looking for cheap options, as many will invest in value-added items presented with thoughtful, yet uncommon upgraded pots.”