BRANCH OUT

If you Google perennials or annual plants, you'll find countless entries. Countless because, if you're like me, you have neither the time nor the energy to research every entry. (Specifically, the search for perennials brought up 1,540,000 entries; the one for annual plants, 12,200,000.) That's a lot of information. So much so, that it's tempting to fall back on the same ol', same ol'. And, thanks to a summary published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, I can even tell you what that is: pansies/violoas, impatiens, petunias … Sound familiar? Obviously, these results reflect the purchasing decisions of unimaginative homeowners, like myself, but are representative of what you are doing, too. So if you're suffering from what the author of our cover story, Ann Marie VanDerZanden, refers to as “option paralysis” — so many plants to choose from that you can't make a decision — you're not alone.

And you're not completely to blame. Oftentimes, you're at the mercy of your local nursery. They stock what sells (reread “same ol', same ol',” above). So even if you find a unique flowering ornamental that you'd like to try, they may not have it. If you're tired of the same selection and relying on the local plant offerings, you might consider growing your own if you have the room. It's a big business, and could turn into a profit center for you, whether you use the plants strictly in your own business or branch out to selling them retail, as well. It's a growing industry — literally. For the 3,121 growers in 2004, sales averaged $811,453 — more than double that of 1994. Potted geraniums sales alone (the leader in sales of annuals) totaled $126 million. And economic indicators for this segment of our industry are favorable. The three main economic drivers of demand are population growth, disposable personal income and building activity. With housing starts continuing at a strong pace (see “Short Cuts,” page 6), nurseries should continue to see increased sales. If you want more information, take a look at “Starting Your Own Nursery,” page C10, to see how two landscape companies are profiting from this business add-on.

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In the meantime, if you're just looking for a few new ideas without having to comb through piles literature, check out Michigan State University's herbaceous perennial fact sheets. These are based on 10 years of research conducted by its floriculture research group. They have studied more than 500 perennial species and cultivars. (And yes, they even offer information on 34 of the most popular perennials — but try to mix these with something new!) The fact sheets provide information on species and cultivars related to cooling requirements, photoperiod response and garden reflowering potential.

Need another incentive to mix things up? OK: Profit. Let potential clients know that a well-landscaped home may enjoy a seven percent premium in value compared to those with average landscaping.

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