Top Left: Guzmania ‘Hope’, Top Right: Vanda Orchid, Bottom Left: Guzmania ‘Francesca’, Bottom Right: Miltonia Orchid
Guzmania ‘hope’: courtesy of Deroose plants inc. / Vanda orchid: courtesy of silver vase / miltonia orchid: leslie f. Halleck / guzmania ‘Francesca:’ courtesy of Deroose plants inc.

Sometimes you just get a feeling about things, and it feels to me like indoor blooming plants are about to blow up. Indoor foliage plants and succulents have been on the rebound for a while, both in terms of popularity and sales. But bloomers, with the exception of a few key holiday plants, have remained more intimidating to new gardeners and price-prohibitive for general impulse shoppers.

As grocery stores began absorbing cut flower sales over the past decade, and independent garden centers closed their floral divisions, the blooming plant category was also swept up in the wake. As a result, the IGC commitment to the blooming gift plant has felt limp, at best. And while we might not like to admit it, grocery stores are getting it right with cut flowers and blooming plants. Most are doing a downright admirable job at merchandising, and their offerings are getting more sophisticated. In fact, grocery chains such as Central Market in Texas have better blooming and floral options than many actual florist shops. Heck, even Albertsons, which has stores in 16 states, has me buying.

So, how are you going to turn this perceived disadvantage into opportunity? As always, by keeping things fresh and targeting the right plants to the right people.

Pick-me-uppers

In terms of overall blooming plant trends, sales look to be on the rise. What’s driving the boost? Marcella Lucio-Chinchilla, VP of sales and marketing at Silver Vase, an orchid and bromeliad grower, says it’s the pursuit of joy.

“Indoor blooming plants bring color and life to one’s home,” she says. “Consumers are more eager to try new things that will bring them joy, happiness and a positive spin to all the political and social economic issues currently happening all over the world.”

It’s been scientifically proven that plants improve our moods; consumers are more often turning to indoor plants to help turn their frowns upside-down.

Don’t fight décor

Of course, home decorating remains a big driver of indoor plant sales. Consumers are looking for a quick and easy fix to take their home aesthetic up a notch. “I find they are wanting easy ways to change and uplift their home décor without spending a lot of money,” Lucio-Chinchilla says. Plants that are easy to care for are also a high priority. I’m a horticulturist and an avid gardener; I still decorate my home and office with plants. Dismissing décor, even disposable décor, as a valid purpose of plant purchases is just bad for business.

The gateway bloomer

White-blooming Phalaenopsis are everywhere nowadays, and the plant’s cost is at an all-time low. They’re easy, abundant and cheap. So they’ve become the gateway indoor bloomer for many who otherwise would be too intimidated or thrifty to buy a plant they will probably have to throw away. Beyond Phalaenopsis, one can now also purchase substantial specimens of blooming Cymbidium and even Miltonia for around $30 at the grocery store, which seems crazy. More colorful Phalaenopsis and mini-cultivars are also available in abundance in the $10 to $20 range. While garden centers may not be happy about these low prices, you have to admit that it makes such plants accessible to a much larger audience. That can mean new opportunities for you.

“Consumers are more at ease with an orchid than they were a few years back,” Lucio-Chinchilla says. “They see them more often, and are more educated about their care, because they are available in different retailers on a more consistent basis.” Familiarity breeds confidence, which leads to more purchases.

If grocery stores and mass merchants are introducing our customers to low-cost, easy-care options of specialty plants such as orchids and bromeliads, let them. Customers who become interested in buying indoor bloomers can cut their teeth with those retailers. Once they’ve decided they want something a bit more unusual or challenging, they’ll come to you. It’s up to you to inspire them with new and interesting options.

What’s new?

Small packages plus big blooms. Both Silver Vase and Deroose Plants are putting a keen emphasis on developing blooming varieties that will appeal to younger customers. That focus translates to small plants with big, long-lasting blooms and low price points that make them easier to replace. When it comes to marketing to Millennials, Silver Vase is aiming for plants with “strong colors, quick results, disposable, and for small spaces,” Lucio-Chinchilla says. Silver Vase’s line of Double Espresso orchids, at less than $15, fits this bill perfectly. Their intensely colored Vanda orchid collection, with plants presented in clear acrylic vases, is the perfect fusion of style with a collector’s plant.

To meet what they see as a growing demand for easy-care, long-lasting indoor bloomers, Deroose has focused their attention on developing new guzmania and tillandsia offerings, says Reginald Deroose, strategy & development director.

“Bromeliads are interesting, somewhat bizarre plants with long-lasting ‘colors’ that are really easy to take care of,” Deroose says. For new bromeliad introductions, they’re working in the direction of smaller plants with bigger flowers.

I’m just going to go ahead and get a little personal here and admit that it’s been a while since I got giddy about bromeliads. But boy howdy, did I get giddy when I saw the new varieties from Deroose. My prediction for the best new “it” Christmas or Valentine ’s Day gift plant? Deroose’s new ‘Hope’ bromeliad. It’s killer, and I’m not even that crazy about the color red. ‘Hope’ sports intense cherry-red bracts with pure white tips and glossy dark green leaves. New foliage emerges a burgundy color, giving the entire plant a lot of interest.

Tillandsia ‘Antonio’ is another new Deroose introduction that’s perfect for wall-mounts or table-top displays. This compact tillandsia displays impressive whorls of large pink bracts that are hard to take your eye off of.

Mini orchids tend to be popular gift items and a hit with “non-gardeners.”
Leslie F. Halleck
Indoor gardening

Urban farming has gone hyper-local, with more small-space dwellers taking their gardening inside their homes or apartments. For those who don’t have an outdoor growing space, creating indoor growing setups is an attractive option. Indoor grow lighting and systems have become more home-friendly, accessible and affordable, making it easier to grow just about anything indoors.

While many who choose to grow indoors are doing so with food production as their primary motivator, plant collectors are also always looking to acquire the next must-have specimen. Plant collecting isn’t a new phenomenon by any means, but cool new plant options feed the fire and attract new collectors into the fold. New lighting options allow collectors to coax orchids and other specialty plants back into bloom. And if you’re a plant collecting addict like me, you know that getting your first orchid to re-bloom pretty much seals your fate. As new and more unusual orchids and other specialty bloomers become more accessible and affordable, indoor growers can develop a bigger addiction and plant collection.

Indoor “ornamedibles”

For customers looking for beauty and harvest all-in-one, keep your eye out for one of the coolest new options on the market: pineapples. Deroose is seeing growing success with their new line of gift pineapple plants, which sport both silver and burgundy foliage. “These plants are real pineapples,” Deroose says. “And when they ripen, the fruit becomes sweet, and the fruit starts to turn yellow or red with a nice pineapple fragrance.” They are also working on an edible mini-pineapple. Talk about taking the hostess gift plant to the next level.

Not just for gardeners

An important marketing shift for garden centers to consider is to proactively reach out to non-gardeners. Everyone is a non-gardener before they become a gardener. Plus, not every customer who buys blooming or foliage plants for their home will ever be a “gardener.” That doesn’t mean they won’t regularly buy blooming plants to freshen up their home décor or give as gifts. The European market has jumped on this concept in a serious way and is producing some interesting plant options and advertising campaigns to connect with non-gardening and décor shoppers.

Make-Upz Cyclamen is dyed to achieve the pastel palette, but Angela Treadwell-Palmer of Plants Nouveau says consumers don’t notice or care.
Angela Treadwell-Palmer, Plants Nouveau
Color rules

In fact, it was the Make-Upz Cyclamen line that caught the fancy of Angela Treadwell-Palmer of Plants Nouveau when she attended shows in Europe this past season. Wait, make-up? Yep.

“The cyclamen were dyed in pastel shades to match a palette of pastel colored eyeshadow,” Treadwell-Palmer says. It’s the sort of fakery that instantly puts plant pros up on their horticultural high horse. But the customer doesn’t instantly know the color isn’t real, nor do they care.

“To them, it’s beautiful,” Treadwell-Palmer says. “When it dies, they can go buy a new one.” The marketing developed around the plants is also pretty savvy and it opens up a new palette of both customers and vendors for the product. “My friend, who owns a salon, would be all over these for her spa,” she says.

Silver Vase also delivers on trend color with their new Mystique orchid collection. These color-infused Phalaenopsis revert back to their original white color when they re-bloom, but the infusion allows Silver Vase to offer on-demand colors they wouldn’t otherwise be able to. “We wanted to offer a true all around pink option to our customers for key events such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day,” Lucio-Chinchilla says.

Cross market

I was in NYC this spring for the big orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden. Inspired by the stunning display, I went online and ordered six orchid varieties I’d seen at the show to add to my collection, none of which were available at local garden centers. If there are promoted flower or plant shows going on in your area, be sure to tap into the event to take advantage of cross marketing opportunities. Consider sponsoring such botanical events and bringing in special orders to boost corresponding plant sales.

With the growing sales potential blooming gift plants have to offer, now’s a great time to take a fresh look at how you are, or aren’t, inspiring your customers to buy. Buy fresh and market smart, and indoor bloomers could deliver you a welcome boost in profits.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, digital content marketing, branding design, advertising and social media support for green industry companies. www.lesliehalleck.com