LESLIE F. HALLECK

The pond department is one of those categories that tends to either work really well for a garden center or not at all. Carrying pond supplies seems like the perfect fit for any independent garden center, conceptually, yet many struggle to move inventory from their pond department or prevent pond sales from going stagnant.

Successful garden pond sales depend heavily, of course, upon your local market and climate, but beyond that, there are some specific marketing and customer education shifts you can make to better address customer perceptions of pond gardening and boost sales. Issues at the forefront of consumers’ minds these days include water conservation and wildlife support. How are you incorporating these topics into your current pondscaping sales strategy?

Water rules

If you live in a water-rich environment, then a backyard pond can seem like an easy, low-maintenance option, but that’s not so in areas of the country that regularly experience drought. In hot and dry climates, water conservation must be considered in all landscaping and gardening activities.

As city and state water restrictions expand, homeowners have been discouraged from maintaining existing ponds and water features or from building new ones. Evaporation in the heat and lack of regular rainfall means hot-climate homeowners must top off or refill ponds more regularly than they’d like or may be allowed. These issues create the perception that building a backyard pond isn’t an eco-friendly or water-wise endeavor.

At the same time, many dry-climate homeowners who state water concerns as the reason for not putting in a pond are squandering water on an expansive lawn or other water-guzzling landscape plants. They simply may not recognize this disharmony.

Ponds can help support local wildlife, like frogs, birds and small mammals. With conservation at the top of consumers’ minds, marketing the environmental benefits of ponds may help boost sales.
LESLIE F. HALLECK
Ponds can be an environmentally friendly option, even in areas experiencing drought.
LESLIE F. HALLECK
Too thirsty

Let’s do a little math. If you estimate delivering .62 gallons of water per square foot of lawn, which equates to the recommended 1 inch of water per square foot, a 1,000-square-foot lawn is going to receive 620 gallons of water each time the sprinklers are run, which is typically a couple of times per week. This assumes that average homeowners have measured how long it takes to deliver 1 inch of water to their lawns, which virtually none have and is why many homeowners regularly overwater. That’s a lot of water and far more than it will take on a regular basis to keep an average-sized backyard pond full.

Fortunately, there is a key upsell solution for those concerned about water conservation. For those living in areas with intermittent rainfall, offer rain barrels as a natural refill solution during dry times. By placing rain barrels at several gutter downspouts, homeowners can collect extra water during rainy times and then use what they collect to top off their pond without turning on a faucet. You can easily tie-in rain barrels and rain gardening supplies and products with your pondscaping department. If you don’t already, make sure you carry kits for attaching rain barrels to gutter downspouts.

You also can encourage homeowners to build a rain garden or a swale that collects water from their roofs and feeds naturally into their pond. If you have a design department or work with a contract landscape designer, you can provide insightful details to your clients that will turn the backyard pond into a higher dollar sale for you and a higher long-term value project for your customers.

Selling pond plants at waist-height is more convenient for customers and makes shopping easier.
LESLIE F. HALLECK

Wildlife matters

Wildlife support is increasingly present in customers’ minds. You can build further on the concept of ponds as eco-friendly landscapes and as mutually beneficial spaces for an entire eco-system of fauna right in their backyards. When it comes to helping rebuild the urban habitat for wildlife, water is a crucial element and, in times of drought, a variety of animals depend on water sources wherever they may be found, including urban gardens. If your customers have not yet considered a pond for their garden, doing so for the sake of wildlife could make them change their minds.

Customers are developing greater knowledge of which plants will best support pollinators and birds, but they also need to be educated on how to take their efforts to the next level with a good water source.

In fact, for any homeowners who are keen on having their garden designated a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation, a pond should be a priority on their to-do list. (Read more in Leslie’s article “Attracting amphibians” in the December 2015 issue: bit.ly/2fgSMnO)

Find balance

Building a pond for wildlife support is a distinct project from building a standard water feature. You’ll need to provide your customers with more information on the multi-layered nature of pond ecosystems to set them up for success, and provide your staff with the know-how to impart that information.

Microorganisms and algae in ponds act as bio-filters that convert ammonia created by other inhabitants into natural fertilizers for pond plants. Zooplankton feed on the microorganisms and algae. Worms, snails, insects and larval insects then feed on the microorganisms and zooplankton. Amphibians, such as frogs and newts, are attracted to the water as both a food source and breeding habitat. Fish introduced into the pond will eat anything previously mentioned and produce ammonia which, in turn, is consumed by the organisms in the lower levels and helps to keep the system in balance. Mammals, birds and reptiles also visit your pond for water, food and mating. As a bonus, these creatures act as a natural insect control service in your garden.

Eco-benefits

Native plants in and around the pond help filter the water naturally, as well as provide resources to pollinators and birds. Remember to identify native plants you have in stock that are tolerant of wet-feet or can be placed directly in standing water. Often, customers are unaware that many of the same plants they grow in beds can also tolerate being grown in standing water.

To encourage more frogs, toads, small mammals and birds, create a sloping transition area between the edge of the pond and the surrounding yard. You can also place logs, branches or a variety of rocks and stones at staggered depths along the edges to allow critters to enter and exit the pond easily. Flexible liners and assorted attractive stones and pebbles from your hardscape departments help customers create a custom look that is easy for wildlife to navigate. Make sure customers in the pondscaping department know what options you have available.

If customers specifically want to attract more birds to their ponds, suggest adding moving water. Pumps can be used to circulate water for added elements such as waterfalls or moving streams. Moving water not only attracts more birds, it also helps cut down on mosquito larvae, although if you have fish or other animals visiting your pond regularly, most larvae will be consumed.

Get certified

To take your pondscaping for conservation and wildlife to the next level: consider having your garden center recognized as a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. If you have ponds on your premises, then your garden center will probably check all of the boxes on the certification checklist.

You can purchase attractive, heavy-duty signage to display your certification in your garden center, both in the pond section and in relevant plant areas. You can then use your certification as a marketing tool to help better educate your customers on the benefits of water for wildlife support, as well as teach them how to certify their own gardens. These efforts, in turn, help support an excellent non-profit organization in the process. That’s a win/win for everyone — especially our wildlife.

When it comes to making your pond department work better for you as a business, be sure you’re taking a look at the big picture when it comes to the impact ponds can have on urban habitat restoration and wildlife support.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business & marketing strategy, product development & branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com