Cultivate took place in person July 10-13 in Columbus, Ohio, after having a virtual conference and trade show in 2020.
Photos courtesy of Matt McClellan

The horticulture industry converged on Columbus, Ohio. July 10-13 for Cultivate’21. After going the virtual trade show and education route in 2020, the event was in-person with on-demand education. Here are a few highlights:

Dr. Charlie Hall discussed current events at his State of the Industry presentation on July 11. We’ve moved from the Great Recession to the Great Shutdown to the Great Conundrum, he said.

“We’re in a period of probable growth but we’re constrained,” he said, “but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

Currently, there is a need for nearly 9.2 million workers, Hall said: about 6.5 million jobs that are open now and 2.6 million that would have been created if there were the workforce to fill them.

While many blame the issue on COVID unemployment checks, two separate university studies have found that the effect on the workforce has been very small, Hall said.

In the past few years, tariff costs have been passed on to the consumer and with a pandemic on top of that, there has been increased difficulty in obtaining raw materials.

And the industry felt that pinch this spring as it drove up the cost of containers and plant protection materials. Hall said this drove up the cost of doing business by 11%.

“Input costs are rising so we’re going to need to increase prices to maintain margins,” Hall said. The way to do that is to increase the perceived value of plant material through marketing, whether it’s the economic, health, experience or quality of life benefits.

Because while consumers are spending more on houseplants, landscaping and flowers when they’re forced to remain home, that spending won’t continue at the same level without the proper marketing. “It’s incumbent on us to continue talking about the benefits of plants,” he said.

First Lady makes her debut.

J. Berry Nursery and Genetics introduced the newest addition to the Hollywood Hibiscus series at Cultivate’21.

First Lady is a prolific bloomer with fantastic disease and insect resistance, according to Tamara Risken, J. Berry’s marketing director.

J. Berry Nursery and Genetics introduced its newest addition, First Lady, to the Hollywood Hibiscus series at Cultivate’21.

First Lady joins the Hollywood lineup and will be available at retail in 2022.

“The flowers are a bit smaller here at the show because they’re not houseplants, but she blooms nonstop in the Texas heat, and in South Florida she’s a grower’s favorite,” Risken says.

The Hollywood Hibiscus line keeps expanding, with 14 “personalities” available currently and more in the pipeline, including First Lady and The Hustler, which is also planned for a 2022 release. Jim Berry, owner of Texas-based J. Berry Nursery and Genetics, keeps coming up with new ideas.

However, each “star” that joins the Hollywood Hibiscus line is the result of a team effort, Risken says.

Research and development at J. Berry makes recommendations, and Berry consults with sales and marketing on ideas, as well. Then from a production standpoint, the nursery sets up trials with its licensed growers and contract growers.

“We get a lot of people on the phone and ask their thoughts because something that performs well in Texas may not perform in South Florida,” Risken says.

J. Berry has growers in Florida, Texas, the West Coast and even Hawaii, where hibiscus run rampant. Risken says their no. 1 producer for the year was Native Farms in Hawaii. The grower provided feedback that even near the jungle, with every known pest and tons of humidity the Hollywood Hibiscus are successful and popular.

“Hollywoods are thriving and customers are paying top-dollar for them in Hawaii even though hibiscus is everywhere,” Risken says.

“People want the Hollywoods because of the flowers, the fanciness, the neatness. That speaks to our grower maintaining our quality standards and doing a fantastic job with the presentation at retail. It’s a combination of effort the genetics, the growing, the marketing.”

Walters Gardens introduces EZ Scapes.

Walters Gardens has created a way for its retail garden center partners to hang on to those new gardeners that picked up the hobby during the pandemic.

New gardeners picked up a houseplant or two or perhaps a shrub last year. If they had success in their first steps of their horticultural journey, they may be feeling ambitious enough to do some basic landscape design. The EZ Scape program was designed to help these gardeners learn the basics and set up their own three- or four-plant perennial border.

“We had 20 million new gardeners last year and a lot of them have no idea what they’re doing,” said Karin Walters, vice president of product strategy for Walters Gardens. “Any way to simplify it and make it easy for them to understand is what we’re shooting for to help support this new explosive growth of the industry.”

“We’re in a period of probable growth but we’re constrained, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.” Dr. Charlie Hall, professor

EZ Scapes are curated perennial recipes, paired by similar growing needs and providing frost to frost garden interest.

Each EZ Scape comes with a specifically designed planting guide showing the recommended ratio of plants to put together, and an approximation of how much space they will take at maturity.

The EZ Scapes are chosen by collection, so gardeners will have a group of perennials with similar landscape performance and requirements.

The EZ Scape handout can be customizable with the plants the retailer sells. Walters has illustrations of the plants in the collection, so if a retailer has three of the four, the missing variety can be swapped out. That would be a difficult task with photographs, but the illustrations make it possible.

EZ Scapes offers marketing support to the retailer in three ways. First, point-of-purchase materials, including posters and banners designed to explain the program. Second, customized handouts with the planting plan, variety information and care tips.

“The home gardener can come up, look at the sheet, and say ‘I can do this myself, that’s easy,’” Walters said.

Third, EZScapes.com, a mobile-friendly website is coming in Spring 2022 with more recipes, a tool to swap varieties and to find a desired color combination.

The author is Managing Editor of Lawn & Landscape’s sister publication, Nursery Management magazine.