Seasonal color and annual plantings are Susie Dempster’s focus at Blooming Designs in Akron, Ohio. Dempster launched Blooming Designs in 2001 as a business segment of her husband’s lawn care and hardscape business, Summit Landscape, which started in 1985.
“I was a gardener and I was working a job that was something different and I liked, but I really wanted to work outside with plants,” Dempster says.
Her husband’s business received some requests for annual plantings, but the business wouldn’t typically perform these jobs. So, Dempster saw an opportunity to launch Blooming Designs as a segment to complement the business and pursue her passion.
Her segment provides flower garden design, garden installation, flower maintenance, annual plantings, perennial plantings and outdoor decorations to name a few services. She serves both residential and commercial customers in Akron.
With annual plantings her focus, Dempster says demand for the service has remained steady over the years. However, in recent years, she has noticed her customers are requesting low-maintenance designs. She has tried to focus on finding annuals that require a little less work on the customer’s part.
“Petunias, zinnias, you just put them in the ground, establish them and you’re done with them,” she says.
Other contractors have also noticed a similar push for low-maintenance designs.
“There has been that request for low-maintenance landscapes,” says Clinton Dawson, vice president Dawson’s Lawn Service in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Dawson’s Lawn Service focuses on lawn maintenance for both residential and commercial customers.
Annuals tend to be more maintenance-intensive, Dawson says. So, he tries to recommend begonias to customers in the summertime, as they are a lower-maintenance annual for southeastern Tennessee’s climate.
“Begonias outweigh all annuals in the summer,” he says. “They are easy to maintain, and they provide a lot of color.”
Concerns with flat sales.
Some contractors have noticed annual planting services have been flat the past few years, and reasons for this vary in different parts of the United States. John Puryear, president of Puryear Farms in Gallatin, Tennessee, says he noticed that same trend as well.
“We have found that the number of flowers we’re putting in each spring and fall has remained constant, but that means it has not kept up with the growth of other services in our company,” Puryear says.
So, he researched why that segment of the business wasn’t growing and learned that some of his customers were taking winter pansies plantings out of their contract.
“Surprisingly, the No. 1 reason people have taken (winter pansies) out of their contract is deer pressure,” he says.
Puryear Farms serves primarily commercial clients northeast of Nashville, Tennessee – businesses, HOAs and large blocks of properties. The company makes about $5.25 million in revenue annually with 75 employees, and it also performs maintenance, installation service and turf health care services.
Puryear says Nashville has a booming population and urbanization, which has reduced availability of natural habitats for animals like deer.
“(In winter) there’s a lack of availability of food sources,” Puryear says. “At the time we’re putting out the pansies, there’s also a reduction in other fodder and food for deer to graze upon, so they turn to the pansies.”
Summer annuals have remained popular for Puryear Farms customers, as deer tend to be less of a problem in warmer months, he says.
In other parts of the U.S., drought and weather patterns impact sales in this segment. Casey Rhoades, vice president of sales at Simpson Landscape in Plano, Texas, says a drought a few years ago decreased the company’s annual and perennial sales.
“From 2010 to 2014 or so, we had a substantial drought where our plantings went down substantially,” he says. “We did a whole lot more rock and hardscape applications.”
Simpson Landscape focuses on serving commercial properties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, such as multifamily housing and executive buildings. Rhoades says seasonal color is one of their more well-known services. The company achieves about $3 million in revenue annually.
While more customers are starting to request annuals again now that the drought has ended, Rhoades noticed that customers are still somewhat drought-conscious. Also, some communities Simpson Landscape serves still have water restrictions in effect.
“We’ve seen (annual plantings) come back, but it’s come back in a slightly different way,” he says. “They want more native, drought-tolerant material. We’ve shied away from some of the water-loving annuals like begonias, and we plant a lot more lantana and vinca because of their drought-tolerance.”
In addition, times of recession are not especially good for annual sales. Dawson says his company had fewer customers asking for annuals during the Great Recession. “When the market is a bit riskier, I think people tend to hold onto their money more,” he says.
Puryear notes that annual sales have gone up since the recession, but he hasn’t seen a dramatic increase in this segment, either. “There hasn’t been pressure to reduce this scope of work today, but I also haven’t had clients tell me they want to invest in a really impressive seasonal color display,” he says.
Improving economic conditions have helped bolster the annual planting services for some landscaping businesses. Rhoades says this business segment has increased a bit at Simpson Landscape due to a growing market in Dallas-Fort Worth. More businesses are moving to the area, which has also increased the number of apartment complexes in the area. He says most apartment complexes tend to want annual displays to try to boost occupancy rates.
“Begonias outweigh all annuals in the summer. They are easy to maintain and they provide a lot of color.” Clinton Dawson, vice president, Dawson’s Lawn Service
“On a whole, it’s an uptick for sure,” Rhoades says. “The properties in this area are competitive (for occupants), so a lot of times landscape could be a deciding factor in living space.”
Good economic conditions have also boosted this segment a little for Puryear Farms in Tennessee. The company has kept busy during the weeks it installs seasonal color in early May and October.
Dempster of Blooming Designs in Akron says annuals are still a popular demand in her area, but tastes in design have changed. Years ago, she often planted annuals in blocks of color. Today, she says her customers are asking to mix annuals and perennials together.
“People have more of a focus on nature now,” Dempster says. “That’s the way things grow in nature. And honestly, it’s easier for us, so we don’t need to be as exact either.”