Congratulations, growers! Another spring season is under your belt. It’s time to unwind enough to catch your breath, but don’t get too relaxed just yet. With spring sales fresh in your mind, it’s an excellent time to take stock of trends that could influence your production or marketing plans for the months ahead.
It’s been about twenty years since plant breeders started courting garden writers with advance info on new introductions, creating trends before new plants ever hit retail lots. As garden writers prime the pump for next season, here’s a few insights into what we’re hearing and seeing around the industry on what’s hot now and what’s to come next year:
1. Unconventional flower color. For the last several years, we’ve watched demand increase for ultra-deep flower colors and blooms bathed in shades of green. That trend continues to grow, particularly in annuals and perennials where we haven’t seen these colors before. Unusual bi-colors and flowers in deep, dark, chocolatey purple are showstoppers. And demand for chartreuse, pistachio, creamy avocado, and vibrant lime-green blooms stands strong.
A relatively new twist involves very pronounced shifts in flower color between bloom stages, giving plants with longer flowering windows a season-long, multi-color look. Hungry for garden drama every day of the week, consumers are also embracing variability in bloom color from seed-grown selections yielding bevies of closely related floral hues.
2. Fabulous foliage. Breeders have dazzled us with leaf color for a long time now, until we’ve come to expect neon yellow, flaming red, and glowing green—especially on heucheras. But the appreciation of exceptional foliage has swelled, in a shift some attribute to the current houseplant craze. Unexpected textures, uncommon shapes, and extremes in leaf size, from colossal to petite, are impressing ornamental consumers.
Variegation is in vogue, especially tri-color combinations like green, deep purple, and magenta-pink, or quad-color leaves of cream, pink, green, and red. Foliage-conscious consumers tuned-in to leaf color see light green, emerald green, and grassy green as different as blue and pink. Heavy pubescence, metallic overlays and dramatic veining never grow old, but a slightly ruffled leaf margin still draws “oohs” and “aahs.”
3. Enhanced fragrance in flowers and foliage. This one’s been building for years, as rose breeders promised the return of fragrance to these beloved blooms. With those long-awaited introductions finally hitting the market, expectations for aromas have filtered down to other plant types. Consumers who didn’t realize fragrance was missing can’t live without it now. From petunias to flowering shrubs, fragrance is hot and it’s not just about blooms.
Plants with fragrant foliage are in the spotlight, and retailers that buy from you will do well to emphasize that selling point. Foliar aromas of lavender, rosemary and culinary herbs are valued in bouquets as much as in kitchen creations. Though “moon gardens” may wane, the demand for plants that perfume gardens during after-work, nighttime hours won’t diminish soon.
4. Compact growth habit. Consumers may not know what to call them, but they want compact plants just the same. We’re not talking about plant height here. We’re talking shorter internodes and robust basal branching that give finished plants more polish, refinement and appeal, whether they’re short or tall. Many breeders made this a priority for the last several years. From annuals to shrubs, their innovations are coming to market, and consumers like what they see.
Along with improved growth habit, the trend toward smaller plant varieties continues. This seems to be driven more by desire than limited garden space. Very small plants, from elfin succulents to diminutive shrubs, are captivating would-be gardeners. And they’re destined for ambitious containers and landscape plantings, not fairy gardens.
5. Plants with purpose. It may be time to stop calling purposeful planting a trend and call it a fundamental shift. One shining example of this mindset is the more than one million pollinator gardens that the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge registered since 2015. According to AmericanHort, independent garden centers enjoyed a 92% increase in demand for pollinator plants and services in that time. But planting with purpose isn’t limited to pollinators.
Garden centers are hearing terms like “sustainability gardens” and “climate change gardens” as consumers shop for both drought-tolerant plants and rain garden plants. Plants tied to a greater purpose—in addition to being healthy and looking great—have a distinct advantage. As interest surges in locally grown, fresh-cut flowers, plants for cutting gardens and other purpose-driven theme gardens are staging comebacks, too.
So, what’s a grower to do?
Relax, catch your breath, and smell the roses. Literally. Let a refreshed perspective shed light on the plants you grow and your production plans for next year. If it’s been a while since you freshened up plant descriptions in your wholesale catalog, it’s a great time for an update. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh pair of eyes and a few new words. If you’re not a wordsmith, consider tapping into some new talent to capitalize on these trends and twists.
You may not have noticed, but a lot of your retailer customers pick up your plant descriptions, word for word, for their retail copy. You can boost your sales and theirs by highlighting these “new” trends—not just in the new plants you’re growing, but in the plants you’ve been offering for years.
That color change from bud to bloom that you take for granted may thrill an end consumer. Shade tree sales may get a lift when new homeowners connect shade with sustainability and lower energy bills. A leaf that releases fragrance when crushed—even accidentally—may be just what that consumer wants to hear.
Here at ICL, we’re looking forward to the months ahead and seeing more plant trends at trade shows from coast to coast. Most of all, we’re looking forward to visiting with you, at home and on the road, and helping you grow the best plants possible.