Adding a Perennial Turn

March 18, 2002 - 12:24

Extending a category’s sales season means adding another turn, which translates into doubling profits

During the mid 1990s, perennial departments saw
ever-increasing sales, as gardeners rediscovered the more
“traditional” plants from their grandparents’ generation. And
perennials continue to be a growth market for growers across the country,
challenging bedding plants with their higher price point.

The obstacle to increasing perennial sales even further is
the common belief that perennials are spring bloomers that should be purchased
in early spring and forgotten about. When the spring rush passes, gardeners and
retailers alike tend to forget about this potentially profitable category.

“Most hobbyists garden because they want to,”
explains PPA Executive Director Steven Still, “not because they have to,
and for them to be able to indulge their horticultural activities from early
spring through early winter would be a real bonus.”

Enter the “June is Perennial Gardening Month”
program.

Sponsored by the Perennial Plant Association, the “June is Perennial Gardening Month” program is designed to extend the home gardening season for perennials through the promotion of summer- and fall-blooming varieties. “Our new program,” said Still, “will
educate gardeners to the advantages of growing perennials almost year-round.
And, of course, as consumers plant more often, the entire distribution chain
experiences a trickle-up effect from garden centers to commercial growers to
horticultural suppliers.”

“Everyone benefits from the extension of the gardening
season,” adds Still.

Supporting the Sale

Wisdom comes with age, at least it did with the “June
is Perennial Gardening Month” program.

The program’s first year introduced a great concept
and endless possibilities, and its second year will add a cohesive marketing
package and increased marketing support. “This year,” explained
Still, “we’re focusing more on getting out information about the
program. We can help growers promote the program to their retailers, through
signage and through assisting with promotional ideas.”

The complete program includes 2- x 3-foot, color posters
with pictures of June gardens, plants and the logo; slick, 8 1/2- x 11-inch
flyers with the poster on the front and ideas for end users on the back;
postcards depicting a variety of perennial garden scenes; Perennial Plant of
the Year posters and flyers dating from 1996 through 2002; plus “June is
Perennial Gardening Month” logo wear.

The Association recognizes the potential of this marketing
program, approaching it as a way to increase category sales. Promotional
materials are cost-effective, with member prices just high enough to cover
costs. For example, preprinted logo postcards cost 21 cents each, 27 for
non-members. Photos and logos are also available from the PPA if you prefer to
design your own promotional materials.

Selection Guide

Your perennial list is probably quite extensive. To help
growers select varieties that fit well into the program, those that are summer
and fall bloomers and/or those that are used in the promotional materials, the
PPA has identified the following “standard” perennials that will
perform well in summer and fall plantings.

Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’. This
long-blooming black-eyed susan has been a garden hit since its introduction
from Germany following World War II. The bright yellow flowers bloom all summer
on stems 36-48 inches tall. The 1999 Perennial Plant of the Year, Goldsturm can
be used in commercial sites Á as well as the home landscape. Goldsturm
can be paired with purple-leaved companions, such as Ipomoea batatas Blackie
Sweet Potato Vine or Weigela florida ‘Alexandra’ Wine
‘n’ Roses, for striking combinations.

Astilbe chinensis ‘Veronica Klose’. Veronica
Klose has rose-purple flowers on 18-inch stems and requires moist soil and
partial shade conditions. While most Astilbes flower in early June, Chinese
Astilbes, such as Veronica Klose, a German export, reaches its ornamental best
from June through the end of July. When partnered with early- and mid-season
bloomers, Veronica Klose creates a continuous bloom period for Astilbe from
mid-May through the beginning of August.

Sedum ‘Matrona’. One of the best-known summer
flowering perennials, Sedum varieties will flower as late as August and
September. Pictured left, Sedum Matrona was the 2000 International Perennial
Plant of the Year. Matrona is an eye-catching, tall-growing Sedum. The 18- to
24-inch stems bear gray-green leaves edged with rose pink. Large pink flowers
are borne at a uniform height, creating a flat-topped appearance. Matrona does
well in full sun and performs well with June planting. Matrona can easily be
paired with other Sedums, such as the more popular ‘Autumn Joy’, to
extend the bloom period or with greenery such as Spirea ‘Dakota
Goldcharm’ for color contrast.

Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’.
Ornamental grasses are experiencing a rise in popularity as gardeners discover
their array of textures, forms, sizes and colors. The 2001 Perennial Plant of
the Year, Karl Foerster is a versatile and maintenance-free grass suitable for
mass plantings or containers. This grass has deep green, upright foliage that
appears in early spring and matures to four feet in height with a 20-inch base.
The 6-foot blooms appear in late spring and are soft to the touch, resembling
wheat. Ornamental grasses add landscape through inactive winter months, and
many gardeners will be interested in grouping several varieties together. Try
Karl Foerster behind shorter grasses such as Pennisetum setaceum ‘Red
Riding Hood’ for color and height variety.

Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’. Becky shasta
daisy is the perfect perennial for the summer garden because of its
long-lasting bloom. It produces large, single white flowers from June through
October, especially if plants are deadheaded, on strong, 36- to 42-inch tall
stems that do not require staking. Becky’s dark, shiny green foliage
holds up well in heat and humidity, tolerating conditions from full sun to partial
shade. Becky also doubles as a cut flower. Chrysanthemums like Becky are most
often thought of as fall plants; offering summer-blooming chrysanthemums is a
great season extender, giving gardeners a smooth transition from summer to fall
landscapes.

Hosta ‘Francee’. If your customers have shady
gardens, they are probably familiar with several varieties of Hosta. Prized as
foliage plants, selections range from blue-green to pale, silvery-green.
Francee is a nicely mounding variety with white margins that can tolerate moist
conditions and multiplies well. To inject color into a Á shade garden,
suggest tie-in sales of Hellebores orientalis, which thrive in the same moist,
shady environment as Hostas.

Phlox paniculata ‘David’. Phlox in a summer
garden? Aren’t phlox spring bloomers? Not garden phlox. Garden phlox,
such as David, are warm-season growers that might even be dormant in the
spring. David has a great fragrance and beautiful white clusters of flowers
atop 36- to 48-inch stems. Producing blooms from mid-summer to early fall,
David is mildew-resistant, even at times of greatest disease pressure. Garden
phlox like David or the pink-blossomed ‘Shortwood’ produce months
of enjoyment when paired with traditional, spring-blooming phlox. David can
also bring late-summer blooms to a white-themed garden.

Tips For Success

At one time, gardeners did most or even all of their
perennial planting in early spring because summer conditions were considered
too harsh for new plantings. And while it is true that perennials planted in
June or later in the summer will require initial care, a little coaching on
your part will ensure success and happiness for end consumers.

The care summer-planted perennials require is little
different from the care that conscientious gardeners give year-round. The
difference with plants installed during hot weather is that care
“guidelines” during any other time of the year become requirements
during the summer, which might call for a little extra education on your part.
Providing retailers with handouts and signage outlining care will probably be
enough to promote success.

Requirements include the following: The garden area should
be well-amended with humus or other organic matter to enhance moisture
retention. Newly established beds should receive four inches of organic matter
per 12 inches of soil to ensure good drainage and optimal root growth.
Irrigation is usually necessary to assist in the establishment of summertime
perennials. The best approach is for one very deep watering per week as opposed
to numerous shallow waterings. Following planting, remember to mulch. This
practice helps retain moisture, retards weed growth and looks good. Do not
apply more than two inches of mulch and keep the mulch away from the crown of
the plant to avoid rot.

About The Author

Bridget White is editor of GPN. She can be reached by phone at (847) 391-1004 or by E-mail at bwhite@sgcmail.com

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