When customers check out a lush ZZ plant or decadent string-of-pearls at the register, their houseplant of choice looks great: plump foliage, shiny leaves, sturdy stalks. However, once these plants arrive at their new homes, will the customer succeed in caring for them? From the beginning of the sale to long after, garden centers must serve houseplant parents with the proper care products in order to make sure their plant looks just as good as the day they bought it. Whether it’s a new customer or a seasoned plant fanatic, here’s how your IGC can merchandise houseplant care products out the door.
It’s important to stock the basics, which includes products such as fertilizers and insect controls. Jim Wood, who retired from Bonide after 20 years of service in September and is now the company’s product expert/media liaison, has some cold weather-ready tips for retailers and customers alike.
“We’re in the fall season and homeowners are going to be bringing houseplants indoors if they had them outside. They might’ve had them on a patio or an outside deck or something, and they want to bring them in for winter,” Wood says. “So, the first thing they need to do is take care of any potential insect problem that they might have on that plant before they bring it in the house. So that’s where all these control measures come into play.”
Customers should clean any outdoor houseplant leaves prior to pulling them inside, so offering insecticidal soaps for these plants, along with a leaf shine agent for that finishing touch, can help stop the spread of insects while making sure the plant looks fresh, he says.
Insect controls and insecticidal soaps are great options. Wood also says mild, soapy water can do the trick, too.
As IGCs transition into winter and customers move their plants into low humidity environments, he recommends that retailers stock saucers and small bags of gravel. With plants on a bed of stone, the water will evaporate and create some humidity around the plant, he says.
Denyse Butler, green goods supervisor at Gardener’s Supply Company, says items like moisture meters and spray bottles are important for customers to have on hand as the temperatures drop.
“People forget that the seasons change in their house as well. They say, ‘Oh, well, it’s a houseplant.’ And I say, ‘Yes, but Mother Nature still affects the houseplants as well,’” Butler says.
Customers should fine-tune the balance and make sure their plants aren’t being over-watered, or once they turn the heat on, under-watered, and that’s where spray bottles come in handy.
“Once the heat comes on and people have thin leaf ferns and such, you have to remember that the plants need that moisture in their foliage, not just in the roots and the soil,” she says. Gardener’s Supply also stocks stick cards for fungus gnats.
“I swear to you, Nov. 1 comes and suddenly there are two people every day coming in saying, ‘I have fungus gnats. Where did they come from?’ And if it’s cold by the window and they water in the evening, instead of maybe in the morning, those things show up. So, have the sticky cards and the sprays ready to catch the flies and kill the bugs that are in the soil.”
She also suggests that IGCs stock items like neem wipes and insect sprays for the winter season so customers can get in the habit of cleaning plants on a regular basis. Since there’s less air circulation, dust and insects are more prone to settle on leaves. Wipes offer a double advantage because they kill insects but also leave residue behind that kills any further stragglers.
Butler also recommends that customers get a turkey baster to suck extra water out of their plant saucer, especially for larger trees and plants that can’t be easily drained.
“You can leave it in there for a half an hour and let the plant finish drinking up the water, but you don’t want to leave it in there and have it create too much moisture in the bottom of the pot,” Butler says. “That will bring on fungus and fungus gnats or other molds. So, you just use it to suck up the water and spit it back into the plant.”
Additionally, since there’s less light in the winter, Butler suggests clip-on grow lights to ensure plants are getting all the light they can. In terms of merchandising these products, it’s all about knowing your audience and where they live. Butler says it all comes down to having the proper tools to make the plants happy.
“You wouldn’t buy a dog and not get them the right food, a water bowl and some toys, right? You want to make them a happy life. So, you want to make sure that you have fertilizers — people forget about fertilizers so often,” Butler says.
Bundle and educate
Fertilizers lay the groundwork for houseplant success, so garden centers must educate new plant parents on the benefits of these products and show customers the benefits of these products. John Harrison, vice president of marketing at Espoma, says the most successful retailers place care products both in a designated area in the store and adjacent to the plants, where people are likely to impulse buy.
“The dealers that we find are most successful end up making off-shelf displays and cross merchandise them with the live goods — like cactus mix and fertilizer with cactus and succulents, or orchid mix and fertilizer with the orchids they sell,” Harrison says.
At Espoma, Harrison says they use their YouTube channel to push “how-to” videos as an educational resource for retailers and customers alike. From creating step-by-by-step succulent arrangements to basic houseplant care tips, they have a quick video to address any customer’s needs.
“As the consumer attention span becomes shorter and they’re bombarded with more messages, we find that video is absolutely the best way to communicate to people. And the videos are and need to be plant or project focused, not ‘here’s a great product,’ so they’re not ads,” Harrison says. “They’re a sort of ‘how to take care of this’ and ‘how to care for that’ as opposed to ‘here’s a great fertilizer.’”
Wood also says customer education is important and recommends circling specific amounts on the label, so customers know exactly what to do when they get home. He believes retailers should prepare to serve a new generation of homeowners — especially because many people have downsized and own smaller homes with minimal outdoor property. According to Wood, this demographic is driving the increase in houseplant sales.
“I think it’s important for retailers to realize that that’s what’s going on and that they stock products to support that trend,” Wood says. “But maybe some retailers don’t realize the extent at which these houseplants are selling. And if they’re relegating houseplant care products to the back wall out of sight, they’re kind of missing an opportunity, in my opinion.”