Marketing Aquatic Plants

May 30, 2005
Written by Michael Lascelle
Marketing aquatic plants is just like selling any other plant group – they need to be properly displayed in season, and in such a manner that they can be easily seen and accessed by your customers.
10Marketing aquatic plants is just like selling any other plant group – they need to be properly displayed in season, and in such a manner that they can be easily seen and accessed by your customers.

Too often, aquatics are relegated to a crowded ‘kiddie pool’ in some deserted corner and we wonder why sales in this department are so lacklustre? The best place to start is with an understanding that each aquatic plant group needs to be handled and displayed differently – so that your customers can actually see for themselves what purpose these plants will eventually serve.

Floating Plants
Floating plants are summer flowers for the pond‚ and they need to be marketed in this fashion. Because most of these are tropical in nature (with the exception of Lemna or duckweed), they are generally not ready to be put out into the pond until the water begins to warm substantially (which is early May in coastal British Columbia), so timing is critical in regards to stocking these plants.

We have one large holding tank (a countersunk, 6' wide round pond) which is used to accommodate the larger floaters such as water hyacinths (Eichhornia crassipes) and water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes). These are generally shipped in plastic-lined cardboard or Styrofoam boxes, and since they are often brought in from quite a distance (mine are usually from Florida or Thailand), they will need to be unpacked and inspected right away. The smaller textured floaters – such as

10b Azolla, Salvinia and frog bit (Hydrocharis) – are sold to us in small, clear plastic delicatessen take-out containers, such as those used to package cold salads. We place these plants (without the packaging) into a custom-built display tank with five shallow (4" deep), side-by-side holding areas – with each compartment having a surface capacity of about 3 to 4 square feet. These display areas are critical to sales, because if your floaters are left in bags or plastic containers where they can’t be seen, they simply won’t sell.

Once the sale has been made, it is important to have plastic aquatic plant bags on hand, so your customer can transport their purchase home without getting their car or clothes soaked. For the fine textured floaters, we just reuse the plastic deli containers that they came in. You should also be reminding your customers that covering 50 per cent of their pond surface with floaters will help to control any excess algae – floaters do this by reducing the available sunlight and competing for the water-borne nutrients with their often extensive root systems.

Water Lilies
Hardy water lilies are a market all to themselves, and given their higher price tag (relative to other aquatic plants), they should be given a very prominent sales location. We have two rectangular (6' x 3') outdoor tanks which are about 18 per cent deep – these tanks receive full sun until early afternoon, which allows the water lily blooms to fully open. We sell two sizes of hardy water lilies – a 2 gallon mesh basket plant and a 3 gallon specimen in a solid-sided pot. Both come with full colour tags and begin blooming shortly after arriving. Which brings us to an important selling feature: flowers sell water lilies! So this makes small starter water lilies and dry-packaged rhizomes much less desirable to the buying customer.
So my best advice in regards to hardy water lilies would be to purchase mature plants which will bloom in your garden centre, and be selective about the varieties you choose to bring in. Currently, some of my best-selling cultivars include Perry’s Baby Red‚ (dwarf), Texas Dawn‚ (yellow), Colorado‚ (peach), James Brydon‚ (crimson red), Chromatella‚ (yellow with mottled foliage), Pink Sensation‚ (silvery pink) and Helvola‚ (pale yellow, pygmy) – with white being my customers’ least favourite flower colour. As a side note, tropical water lilies and lotus (Nelumbo) require very warm water temperatures and special growing conditions, which means that they should probably be left in the hands of nurseries who specialize exclusively in aquatics.

Marginals
Marginals are a group of aquatic plants whose roots remain submerged, with the crown or foliage rising above the surface of the water. This is quite a varied selection of plants – encompassing rushes (Juncus), iris, cattails (Typha) and many other genera – and as such, this group holds the greatest potential for sales. We have three custom-made, rectangular marginal tanks which are 18 per cent high, but only 6 per cent deep. These tanks are generally filled with 3-4" inches of water, enough to clearly indicate to our customers that these are truly aquatic plants. We sell two sizes of marginals – a 9 cm. starter plant and more mature specimens in one gallon pots. Both come with detailed aquatic plant tags, indicating preferred water depth (from 0 to 12 per cent), sun exposure and any specific cultural requirements.

I also have several shallow holding tanks (4 per cent deep) located outside, so I can rotate the sun-loving marginal plants and keep them looking fresh. These tanks also help to temporarily hold any overflow spring stock.

Tropical Aquatics
There are a number of bold, tropical plants such as canna lily, taro (Colocasia) and papyrus (Cyperus) which make excellent summer accents for any pond. These tropicals are generally more costly than hardy plants due to the heat necessary to grow them, and none are winter hardy outdoors – which is an important distinction to make to any potential customer. Still, these bold foliage plants are very popular with gardeners looking for some exotic flair, and they don’t mind paying a little more for this effect. Display large specimens of tropical aquatics singly, in glazed water bowls, where the beauty of their plant structure and foliage can really be appreciated by passers-by.

Oxygenators
Oxygenators are a small group of submerged aquatics which (when kept in balance) help to provide oxygen to fish stock, compete with algae for water-borne nutrients and also create much-needed cover and spawning grounds. Some of these, such as hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) come as loose cuttings tied together in a bundle or held in an enclosed plastic mesh bag. A small half-barrel or water bowl capable of submerging all of your bags or bundles is usually sufficient for this type of oxygenator.

Other oxygenators, such as parrot’s feather or Myriophyllum, are often potted up as rooted cuttings. These plants often need a deeper tank, as you will need to accommodate both the containers and the constantly elongating foliage strands. Due to the fact that many oxygenators are kept out of sight below the water surface, they are generally not high-profile items – so you will need to make your customers aware of their importance to a balanced pond.

Peripheral Products
Even if plant sales are the primary focus of your aquatic centre, you are still going to have to carry a limited quantity of peripheral products in order to meet all of your customers’ aquatic plant needs. Here is a short list of necessary products to keep in stock - hopefully, in close proximity to the plants.

•     Aquatic Plant Soil – An essential product to have on hand, especially if you sell small starter plants, which will eventually need to be potted up. This dredged lake clay is quite a heavy product, so you might need to offer some assistance in loading.

•    Aquatic Planter Baskets – While there is much disagreement among pond experts as to whether mesh or solid-sided aquatic planters are best for plant growth – I try to keep both products in stock and let my customers decide for themselves. Larger planter baskets also offer your clients the opportunity of creating custom-made, mixed aquatic planters using several different species or cultivars.

•     Fine Gravel – Small packages of fine pea gravel are an ideal aggregate to safely topdress newly planted aquatic plants. This keeps excess soil particles from fouling the water when the planter is first plunged into the pond.

•     Aquatic Plant Fertilizer – The simplest product to have on hand is a compressed tablet with a 10-14-18 ratio. These are simply pushed into the aquatic soil medium when needed, where they slowly dissolve and provide nutrients to the plant. Be sure to remind your customers that water lilies should be fertilized once a month when in bloom.

Aquatic Displays
Lastly, small aquatic displays incorporating water bowls and half-barrels |with the aquatic plants that you sell, are an effective means of inspiring your potential customers. Not only
will this help to increase your aquatic plant sales, but you’ll definitely end up selling a few more pumps, water bowls and fountain accessories.

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