Cross-merchandise herb and vegetable plants with copies of barbeque recipes and offer specials on grills to get customers in the spirit.

Our longtime customers know what to expect at the garden center: shrubs and trees all through the growing season, summer annuals in late spring, a sale on perennials in the fall and Christmas trees and holiday décor in December. This predictability is useful for us and comforting for shoppers, but it doesn’t necessarily bring people in 12 months a year. An additional way to drive sales can be setting up a theme for the month and getting creative with that topic.

In order for a theme to be appealing, however, it needs to be unexpected. Spring or fall planting don’t do the trick since these are totally predictable. Ditto for Christmas, unless you’re celebrating in July. No, a theme should be something intriguing, be it intellectually, emotionally or creatively. You might have just one week that celebrates a particular topic, a single month or longer, especially during slower seasons.

Your garden center could spend a period honoring a specific group of plants, a favorite color or even a classic old movie. February might be Tropical Plants Month (“Visit Hawaii or Florida without boarding a plane …”); September could be Passionate For Purple Month (Make displays of purple flowering perennials, ornamental kale, purple-foliaged shrubs and houseplants, and violet garden ornaments); and August declared Some Like It Hot Month (Stream the movie on a large screen in your store; make a display of hot-colored flowers; have products based on hot-peppers on sale or declare some special plants and products as, “Our staff thinks these are hot!”).

Brainstorm with your crew about possible themes and ask them for their ideas for promotion, sales and tie-ins for each of their suggestions. Use topics that are of interest to a large number of people, resonate in your region or promote awareness. Here are just a few ideas for week- or month-long celebrations.

Barbeque bliss

Create a display of herbs and vegetables for grilling. Offer copies of favorite barbeque recipes at the registers. If you sell grills and equipment, offer special sales during this period. Show how grow boxes can be used on a deck or patio to keep fresh herbs or even tomatoes close at hand for ingredients and hors d’oeuvres.

Themes like Super Power Month or Birding Month offer fun activities for the whole family.

Merry birding

Emphasize birds during the winter holiday season. Show how seasonal wreaths and swags can also contain sheltering boxes and baskets for birds. Give instructions for decorating an outdoor evergreen with birdseed ornaments and suet-filled pinecones. Offer special pricing on feeders, electric birdbath heaters and other types of birding supplies.

Super powers

Garden centers sell all kinds of plants and products with super powers that most people are unaware of. There are succulents whose super power is going two weeks or longer without water. Herbs such as lemon verbena have the ability to lift your mood and stevia’s power is sweeting beverages without sugar. An organic fertilizer’s superpower is adding nutrients slowly over time and compost has the ability to nourish soil life. During Super Powers Month you might give an automatic discount to families who come in with a child dressed as their favorite superhero. Create a display of the products that will help create super gardens in your area.

Zoom room

With so many people working at home and connecting with friends and family virtually, every house should have at least one Green Zoom Room. Show how to make a tiered display of houseplants as a background in a home office. Create a display of “outdoor office plants” for screening on balconies or patios. Show how tall plantstands can hold foliage or flowering plants for flexible arrangement indoors or out.

Organic solutions

Have your customers nominate individuals who deserve a “local hero discount” this month.

Our customers want ways to solve problems organically. Create a display of an organic solutions shed, with safer herbicides, insecticides, soil amendments and tools. Offer in-store handouts about common seasonal difficulties, discussing how these can be handled organically. Show how cultural practices can help gardens be healthier and avoid common crises.

Local heroes

Celebrate people, plants and products that make a difference in your community. Have your customers nominate individuals who deserve a “local hero discount” this month. Or declare each week as a time to say thank you to first responders, healthcare workers and teachers. Find those who are active in community or public gardens and reward them with a plant or discount. Feature plants that are heroes because of their hardiness or their support of pollinators and other wildlife.

It’s pretty obvious that we’ll be dealing with COVID-19 into the winter and everyone needs uplifting and life-affirming things to look forward to. Fortunately, we’re in an elevating business, and mood-lifting themes can help boost our customers and our sales.

C.L. Fornari is a speaker, writer and radio/podcast host who has worked at Hyannis Country Garden, an IGC on Cape Cod, for more than 20 years. She has her audiences convinced that C.L. stands for “Compost Lover.” Learn more at