Adding a Perennial Turn By Bridget White

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

During the mid 1990s, perennial departments sawever-increasing sales, as gardeners rediscovered the more”traditional” plants from their grandparents’ generation. Andperennials 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 isthe common belief that perennials are spring bloomers that should be purchasedin early spring and forgotten about. When the spring rush passes, gardeners andretailers 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 earlyspring 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, “willeducate gardeners to the advantages of growing perennials almost year-round.And, of course, as consumers plant more often, the entire distribution chainexperiences a trickle-up effect from garden centers to commercial growers tohorticultural suppliers.”

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

Supporting the Sale

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

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

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

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

Selection Guide

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

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

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

Sedum ‘Matrona’. One of the best-known summerflowering perennials, Sedum varieties will flower as late as August andSeptember. Pictured left, Sedum Matrona was the 2000 International PerennialPlant of the Year. Matrona is an eye-catching, tall-growing Sedum. The 18- to24-inch stems bear gray-green leaves edged with rose pink. Large pink flowersare borne at a uniform height, creating a flat-topped appearance. Matrona doeswell in full sun and performs well with June planting. Matrona can easily bepaired with other Sedums, such as the more popular ‘Autumn Joy’, toextend the bloom period or with greenery such as Spirea ‘DakotaGoldcharm’ for color contrast.

Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’.Ornamental grasses are experiencing a rise in popularity as gardeners discovertheir array of textures, forms, sizes and colors. The 2001 Perennial Plant ofthe Year, Karl Foerster is a versatile and maintenance-free grass suitable formass plantings or containers. This grass has deep green, upright foliage thatappears 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, resemblingwheat. Ornamental grasses add landscape through inactive winter months, andmany gardeners will be interested in grouping several varieties together. TryKarl Foerster behind shorter grasses such as Pennisetum setaceum ‘RedRiding Hood’ for color and height variety.

Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’. Becky shastadaisy is the perfect perennial for the summer garden because of itslong-lasting bloom. It produces large, single white flowers from June throughOctober, especially if plants are deadheaded, on strong, 36- to 42-inch tallstems that do not require staking. Becky’s dark, shiny green foliageholds up well in heat and humidity, tolerating conditions from full sun to partialshade. Becky also doubles as a cut flower. Chrysanthemums like Becky are mostoften thought of as fall plants; offering summer-blooming chrysanthemums is agreat season extender, giving gardeners a smooth transition from summer to falllandscapes.

Hosta ‘Francee’. If your customers have shadygardens, they are probably familiar with several varieties of Hosta. Prized asfoliage plants, selections range from blue-green to pale, silvery-green.Francee is a nicely mounding variety with white margins that can tolerate moistconditions 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 summergarden? Aren’t phlox spring bloomers? Not garden phlox. Garden phlox,such as David, are warm-season growers that might even be dormant in thespring. David has a great fragrance and beautiful white clusters of flowersatop 36- to 48-inch stems. Producing blooms from mid-summer to early fall,David is mildew-resistant, even at times of greatest disease pressure. Gardenphlox like David or the pink-blossomed ‘Shortwood’ produce monthsof enjoyment when paired with traditional, spring-blooming phlox. David canalso bring late-summer blooms to a white-themed garden.

Tips For Success

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

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

Requirements include the following: The garden area shouldbe well-amended with humus or other organic matter to enhance moistureretention. Newly established beds should receive four inches of organic matterper 12 inches of soil to ensure good drainage and optimal root growth.Irrigation is usually necessary to assist in the establishment of summertimeperennials. The best approach is for one very deep watering per week as opposedto numerous shallow waterings. Following planting, remember to mulch. Thispractice helps retain moisture, retards weed growth and looks good. Do notapply more than two inches of mulch and keep the mulch away from the crown ofthe plant to avoid rot.

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Bridget White

Bridget White is editor of GPN. She can be reached by phone at (847) 391-1004 or by E-mail at [email protected]

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