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News article: Going to Pot

Going to pot

Noelle Weatherley reviews the market for Greenworld More and more Australians are going to pot each year - gardening in pots, that is!

There's a number of factors influencing this move to container gardening, not the least of which is the imposition of bans or restrictions on water use around the house and garden. There's quite a strong perception `out there' that using water on gardens and lawns is no longer appropriate, but most householders still want to be able to have some greenery around them - and gardening in pots is the simplest solution and the least demanding on water consumption.

Changing the way we live

Many Aussies are now also foregoing the quarter-acre block that was the ultimate dream of previous generations. They're opting instead to live in apartments, townhouses or medium to high density housing estates where outdoor space is limited and the preference is for hard surface outdoor rooms adorned with minimal garden beds and lots of decorative planters.

Those living in multi-storey apartment buildings don't even have the option of an outdoor room - most are restricted to greening up their indoors and placing planters on balconies, if they have them.

Add into the equation the fact that a large percentage of the population also works indoors, and one starts to get the message that the market for containerised plants is HUGE.

Plants improve air quality

In research carried out by Ronald Wood, Margaret Burchett, Ralph Alquezar, Ralph Orwell, Jane Tarran and Fraser Torpy from the Plants and Environmental Quality Group of the University of Technology, Sydney (see NGIA's Technical Nursery Papers - October 2004), it was found that over 80 percent of Australians live in cities and on average spend 90 percent of their time indoors.

Surprisingly, the team also found that indoor air is generally more polluted than outdoor air due to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced by furnishings, carpets, paints and outdoor VOCs (mainly fuel emissions) trapped indoors.

Results from this research show that indoor pot plants usually reduce volatile organic compounds by 50 percent to 70 percent and that pot plants clean indoor air in both air-conditioned and non air-conditioned environments.

In their published report, the researchers concluded that the garden industry can now confidently:

(a) Market potted plants to reduce indoor air pollution

(b) Promote them to complement, disguise or sometimes replace engineering measures

(c) Start designing arrangements to `fit any space'

(d) Point out that they are self-regulating bio-filters

(e) Emphasise that they are portable, flexible, inexpensive, low-maintenance and beautiful, while they are improving and maintaining clean air quality

Lifestyle.

.The changes in how and where many of us are choosing to live are also being reflected in garden centres - many are now promoting their businesses as `garden and lifestyle centres', where the emphasis is less on the traditional garden and more on indoor and outdoor decoration.

If you need any further convincing, then a quick flick through the pages of recent editions of Greenworld will highlight this. The last issue for example, included a profile on Martin Garden Centre in Toowoomba (Qld). The illustrations were all of established plants in containers. The GCA website (www.gardencentresaust.com.au) currently has photos of the new `botanix lifestyle garden centre', also in Queensland, which places a strong emphasis on indoor and outdoor d‚cor and features large displays of containers and container plants.

It seems that gardening in pots is not just fashionably good for us but is here to stay, and the garden centres catering to this trend are tapping into a growing market.

Pots, pots and more pots

So promoting container gardening is the way to go - but where do you start? Pots come in all shapes, sizes, materials and price ranges - from `cheap and cheerful' (`c & c') to expensive and elegant, and from plastic to terracotta and imported ceramic. Ultimately what you stock will, to a large extent, be dictated by your location and average consumer demographic.

While it's tempting to stock only the mid to top end of the quality range, which is probably where most discerning shoppers will spend their dollars, you should be stocking some `c & c' pots as well, to give your staff the opportunity to up-sell.

It's also important to ascertain where the containers will be placed - if your customer lives in a high-rise apartment and intends the pots for a balcony, make sure you mention load limits and recommend lightweight ceramic or terracotta look-alikes.

When it comes to fashion colours and shapes, it's probably best to contact your suppliers and ask for their latest catalogues before making any buying decisions. What was `in' last year may not be this year! Most of your pot suppliers, such as Northcote Pots, Garden City Plastics, Paddington Pots, etc, will be happy to advise you.

Saucers and pot feet should be displayed with or close to pots and their purpose should be explained to customers at the time of pot selection. Saucers will prevent staining indoors and pot feet will assist drainage outside. One of the best ways to sell pots and plants is to display them together, to give your customers some inspiration! Be creative - don't do the obvious - and you'll end up with some eye-catching displays that should see your sales go through the roof.

Pot sealants

Many pots, especially terracotta and unglazed ceramics, are quite porous and will dry out rapidly in warm weather, be they indoors or out. To minimise moisture loss, the inside of the pot should be painted with a pot sealer. Most customers will be quite unaware that they can reduce the frequency of watering by sealing pots, so make sure your staff are briefed, and display your pot sealers with your pots!

Plant selection

It's possible to grow almost anything in a container - from vegetables, herbs, bulbs and annuals to medium sized trees and shrubs; pots naturally restrict root growth of larger plants which in turn, will limit top growth.

Where `house' plants are required, don't restrict selections to just the traditional indoor plants like African violets, spathiphyllums, anthuriums, philodendrons, and so on. It's possible to grow almost anything indoors provided plants are spelled outside for a few days every few weeks. Even roses, camellias and other flowering shrubs will survive periods inside while they are at their best.

Don't forget potting mix, wetting agent and fertiliser

Every pot-plant combo you sell provides the opportunity for excellent value adding! Almost without fail, you should be able to add at least one bag of potting mix (premium quality, of course) to the sale. Some plants such as orchids, cacti and succulents, have specific growing media requirements, so it's important not only to have these available but to highlight them to customers who may not be aware that the plants they've chosen need special blends.

Generally speaking, containers will dry out faster than garden soils after watering, so it's fairly important that the mix includes a wetting agent to assist with rewetting and to add some water storing crystals to the sale if they're not already included in the bag.

Some companies have single-use sachets of wetting agents and water storing crystals available, which you might like to use as giveaways to pot purchasers - if they're impressed, they'll be back for the full-size packs before long!

Even though most potting mixes contain nutrients, usually in a slow release pelletised form, it should be relatively easy to add some plant food or tonic to the overall sale. Plants being repotted will settle in faster and suffer less transplant trauma if they are watered in with a suitable tonic like Seasol or Maxicrop. During peak growth and flowering periods, additional food in a liquid form will give plants that extra boost they need - and so on.

The end result

If you and your staff are on the ball, your lifestyle and garden centre is well stocked and everyone's ready to meet the challenge, it really shouldn't be difficult to transform that initial pot purchase into the full package

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