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Ornamental opportunities

September 1, 2010 -  By

Your clients may not know the difference between herbaceous perennials and woody ornamentals, but they know what they want. Creating educated landscape customers is a worthy goal, but don’t forget to listen and learn from them as well.

“Landscapers shouldn’t be lumping everything into plant categories, like trees, shrubs and perennials,” says Debbie Lonnee, planning and administration manager at Bailey Nurseries Inc., Newport, MN. Bailey is one of the largest wholesale nurseries in the country. “They are all plants and can work in harmony.  So many times we try to lump everything into a neat category, but the lines are becoming blurred. Shrubs are being used as annuals. Hey, whatever makes the customer happy!”

Craving color

This year, color is making the customer happy. And it doesn’t matter if that color comes from blooms or foliage. Landscapers have the opportunity to weave ornamental trees and shrubs with distinctive shapes and foliage colors into the landscape.

Year-round color and interest from spring blooms, fall color and winter bark should all be taken into account when satisfying your customers’ requests for color. Many consumers have also become enamored with variegated leaves. Clumps of green are becoming out of vogue, says Lonnee.

Edibles remain popular

Some of that color may even be good enough to eat.

According to The Garden Writers Association Foundation’s (GWAF) Late Spring Gardening Trends Research Report for the 2010 gardening season, more consumers are planning on adding a vegetable garden or herb garden. This continues the edible landscape trend identified in last year’s report that showed more than 41 million U.S. households (38%) grew a vegetable garden in 2009, more than 19.5 million households (18%) grew an herb garden and 16.5 million households (15%) grew fruits.

“Fruits in general have been a very strong category for us, whether it is a fruit tree such as apple, pear or plum, or any type of small fruit, from blueberry to currents, gooseberries and raspberries,” Lonnee says. “We can’t keep enough rhubarb in stock.”

When planting edible plants, make sure the client is aware of the maintenance that comes with many fruiting trees and shrubs. Many drop their fruit. However, there are ornamentals that don’t leave a big mess, such as flowering crab apples, or produce small berries that are taken up by birds — often before ever hitting the ground.

Big ideas for small spaces

Designing a small landscape space? Don’t rule out ornamentals. There are plenty of dwarf trees and shrubs from which to choose.

“We love the new Rocket series of barberries from PlantHaven,” says Lonnee. “In the upper Midwest, people are looking for a substitute from the banned columnar buckthorn, and anything columnar and small fits the bill.”

New shrubs and trees bred to fit small spaces can help landscape professionals do a lot with a little space. Plant breeders have also made great strides in drought tolerance and disease resistance.

“Get to know your supplier’s salespeople, and keep up on new plant trends,” says Lonnee. “So many suppliers have open houses and tours and can show you what is in production.”

LM Staff

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