Research indicates that shrubs in mixed containers have piqued the interest of consumers. Alec Charais, marketing and communications manager at Bailey, describes how growers can create some dynamic, big-ticket products that will boost profits for both the producer and the retailer.

1 | What makes using shrubs in decorative containers appealing for the end consumer, and what should a grower know before implementing a production program that incorporates them in the mix?

When it comes to container gardening and gardening in general, people are looking for plants that are an extension of their own personal style. For some it is a more traditional look, whereas others are trending toward more modern styling. Container gardening offers that ability to customize the experience from the get-go. Growers and retailers have the opportunity to inspire consumers with ready-made containers that feature more than just typical herbaceous plants. Our own research has told us that people are open to using shrubs in containers, yet it isn’t top of mind when in store due to lack of inspiration. Finally, shrubs in containers are easier to take care of, making them more appealing from that aspect.

2 | Are there certain varieties that work best, and what should someone keep in mind when creating a combination recipe?

The beautiful thing about it is that really, anything can work. Certainly, there are some items that are more desirable than others. Flowering shrubs with a long bloom period and compact habit such as BloomStruck® or Summer Crush™ from Endless Summer® Hydrangeas make for excellent candidates because they look great as monocultures or in combination with other annual and perennial color. Foliage shrubs such as Little Devil™ Ninebark and Straight Talk™ Privet are also excellent choices due to their clean lines and almost architectural look. Southern plants such as Distylium (Vintage Jade™, Coppertone™, etc.) and Gardenia (Double Mint™, Sweet Star™) varieties are also excellent choices thanks to their clean, glossy, evergreen foliage making them look great in both home and commercial applications.

3 | In terms of finishing time and the care involved during production, what are some key cultural considerations (pruning, PGRs, fertility, etc.) for growers?

There are a number of ways for growers to produce decorative containers that feature ornamental shrubs. For example, Hydrangea macrophylla forces extremely well for Mother’s Day sales by taking dormant finished product early spring and heating to force into flower within 8-10 weeks with very little in the way of growth regulators. This is especially true for growers in the Midwest and Northern parts of the country. In warmer climates, much of the planting can be done early in season so the plants can have an opportunity to set new roots before shipping. Some growers and retailers prefer to bring in finished product and then simply drop it into a decorative container or wrap for quick retail presentation, which is certainly fine, as well.

4 | What should retailers do to keep them looking good on the shelf? How about consumers once they get them home?

Like all retail products, the first rule is to sell the inventory so you don’t have to care for it long term. That said, their care is really no different and is likely easier than with annual combos since shrubs don’t require constant deadheading and nutrition. If the grower has incorporated a slow-release fertilizer in the media, then infrequent water-soluble nutrition is more than enough to supplement their requirements. The same would be said for the consumer once they have them home.

5 | From a pricing perspective, what about the cost/price/value equation? Are their price points to keep in mind?

This is where many growers get hung up. Due to the long-term nature of woody plant production as compared to bedding plants, liner selection is the most important influence on both quality and profitability. This allows flexibility for the grower to simply bring material in when they are ready for it, minimizing the amount of time caring for it. Some growers may opt to use potted liners or bare root if their facilities are set up for it, which can reduce their up-front costs provided they have the production capacity for this. NM

For more: www.baileynurseries.com