Cashing in on Exotic Tropicals

March 06, 2008
Written by Carla Allen
Sampling the occasional juicy ripe grapefruit from your garden centre plants is justified, right? After all, you have to be able to tell prospective customers how delicious the fruit from these citrus trees is.
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 Sheila McBeth, a Green Village Home & Garden employee, inspects a lemon tree.
Sampling the occasional juicy ripe grapefruit from your garden centre plants is justified, right? After all, you have to be able to tell prospective customers how delicious the fruit from these citrus trees is.

Linda Metzler supervisor of the retail greenhouse at Green Village Home & Garden in Fredericton, N.B., says she tasted fruit from trees they sold several years ago when they first brought in potted citrus.

“It was delicious!” she says.  The supply of trees petered out at that time because of canker virus, but that problem has been addressed and demand for these plants is now high.  Their business has grown from selling potted calamondin oranges, to large grapefruit trees, limes, lemons and even navel oranges.

“This is all new to us,” says Metzler.  Even the supplier is new.  She was hesitant to buy from the American company, Record Buck Greenhouses in Howry-in-the-Hills, in the beginning because she’d never heard of them. But since the location was known as the capital for orange juice in Florida, she decided to order product, without a recommendation or seeing the business for herself.

“He told me I would be pleased and he was right,” she says. The trees are good quality citrus plants and fetching high prices – three-gallon lemons sell for $50, and people are paying $150 for 10-gallon fruited grapefruit trees that are four and a half feet tall. Metzler says the lemon trees are the easiest to grow, with similar cultural requirements to the calamondin.

Another tropical that’s caught a lot of attention is the phalaenopsis orchid. Metzler describes it as an ‘easy care’ orchid.

“ I just find that if I could get a truck to go up as often as I like I could sell tons of them. When you have a bigger display like 50 at a time or so, it’s unbelievable how you see people walk out with them,” she says. She dispels customers’ fears of the plants being difficult to grow by telling them that their culture is similar to that of African violets.

“Place the orchid in a bright room while it’s blooming and fertilize it. If you don’t have high humidity a pebble tray beneath the plant will do,” she says.

Other popular items include the shipment of ceramic pots they receive every year and sell throughout the season. Green Village offers a free potting-up service in connection with this accessory when a plant is bought. There’s also a free transplanting and fertilizing service.

Customers can buy an empty jug for $2 and fill it for free with the 20-20-20 solution the nursery has on hand. In the summer, Metzler says she has to fill the nursery jug every day. In wintertime the nursery suggests clients dilute it  to half strength.

“Right now we are suggesting spraying down plants they’ve had on their patio and introducing them gradually to the house,” says Metzler.

At MacArthur’s Nursery in Moncton, retail manager Tony DeLuca says lucky bamboo is a popular choice for consumers looking for gift plants.

“There is oriental folklore that if you give them as a gift to somebody they are supposed to bring good luck,” he says.

The plants, which are actually a species of Dracaena, can grow quite large, but are meant to be kept in low-light conditions to grow slowly.

DeLuca tells customers they should let the soil dry out between waterings.

“With most of the houseplants, probably 90 per cent of the problems are due to overwatering more than anything. Also palms in general tend to be relatively susceptible to spider mites, especially if they are in a hot, dry environment,” he says. The common problem of tip burn on this plant can be avoided by using bottled fluoride-free water.

Lucky bamboo is a favourite plant for Feng Shui. With red ribbon tied around the stalks, the effect is to ‘fire’ the positive flow of energy or chi in the room. The number of stalks also has meaning: three stalks mean happiness; five stalks mean wealth, and six stalks mean health. The unlucky number four however is to be avoided. The word ‘four’ in Chinese sounds too similar to the Chinese word for ‘death!’

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