New gardeners arrived in droves, and it’s important to keep them hooked on the hobby. As winter arrives, provide them with cold-weather activities to boost their spirits — and interest.
PHOTO © ROMRODINKA | ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

Despite the challenges of curbside pickups, customer or employee safety and a scarcity of plant stock, the Spring of 2020 was kind to IGCs. Sheltering at home, many turned their attention to their yards and patios. Record numbers planted vegetable gardens, flower-filled containers and new landscaping, resulting in increased business for our industry. As we move from the growing season into the holidays and winter months, our focus has turned to keeping these COVID customers focused on the garden. Here are a few ways that we can encourage these new gardeners to stay involved with plants.

Give them plant-based winter projects to lift their spirits.

We’re going into a time of year that’s already hard for many people. The short hours of daylight, holidays and winter weather make many depressed even without a pandemic. We can help lift our customers’ moods with plants. Encourage people to come into the greenhouse for light therapy among the plants. Post photos of the most beautiful flowers in bloom, be they indoor plants you have in stock or selections that you’ll carry next year. Remind your customers of how wonderful it is to put a group of paperwhite narcissus in the bottom of a clear glass vase and watch the growth process from roots to bloom. Suggest that your customers buy a small bulletin board for displaying colorful seed packets. Show them plants they can put into their outdoor containers even in the winter months.

Present virtual programs on houseplant care, planting a terrarium or creating dish gardens. Offer grab-and-go kits for creating fairy gardens. Google “plant science projects for kids” and offer the supplies that parents will need for such activities.

Help them to remember how plants make them feel.

Invite your customers to write about how they felt last spring when they planted their first vegetable garden or put annuals in containers. Ask them to email you a photo of what they created and which plants they enjoyed the most. Post these photos and the most uplifting comments in your newsletter, on your blog and on social media.

Gardening isn’t just outdoors! Offer grab-and-go gardening kits or terrariums as fun children’s activities.
Photo © DEVONANNE | ISTOCKPHOTO

Validate and reiterate gardening as a hobby.

Praise these COVID planters to the high heavens! After all, they could have decided to distract themselves with pints of ice cream and old movies. Write about this wise choice in your communications and in op-ed letters to local newspapers and websites.

Tell the public what a great decision it was to get outdoors. Remind them that they have modeled something important for their children; they’ve demonstrated that in difficult situations we can learn new things, create something beautiful and plan positively for the future. They choose to get exercise, improve their surroundings and support a local business. Applaud them, long and loud, for this response.

Show customers how to create bulletin boards stylized with their favorite seed packets so they can have a spring-inspired mood board during the winter months.
PHOTO © URBANCOW | ISTOCKPHOTO

Start a local gardening group on Facebook.

If your region doesn’t have a garden group on Facebook, start one. This is a great way to build community, and keep local gardeners inspired and informed. Many garden centers wonder if they’ll have to spend lots of time either answering questions or moderating, and I can say from experience that not much time needs to be spent once such groups are up and running; the members will help each other. My garden center started a local group several years ago, and it now has 8,500 very active members.

Be sure that you make it clear that it’s not a group for selling things, but for the exchange of information and photos. It’s also a good idea to screen potential members by asking them where they live in order to keep the group local. It’s not helpful, for example, for someone from southern California to give plant suggestions to Cape Cod gardeners, as well-meaning as they might be.

People like to be a part of something good, so creating a regional group around plants and gardens will keep new gardeners connected and enthusiastic moving forward.

Help them plan for next spring.

It’s never been more important to start encouraging your customers “think spring,” even in the dead of winter. Ask them what they tried for the first time in 2020 that they’re planning to plant again. Show them photos of new varieties that you’re expecting. Give them a calendar that lists times for seed starting indoors and spring plantings. Have a countdown for the number of days until your first nursery delivery. Ask those who follow you on Facebook or Instagram to comment about what they’re most looking forward to growing in 2021.

Will some COVID gardeners give it up once the pandemic has ended? Undoubtedly. But it’s likely that others will continue finding stress relief and joy with plants and in their gardens … especially if we cheer them on.