Reclaim the Fall Season: Eight ways to get your customers planting

July 31, 2008
Written by Michael Lascelle
Go beyond the usual seasonal flowers and consider stocking ornamental gourds and pumpkins.
The spring sales season is no longer the reliable moneymaker it once was. Erratic weather across Canada in the form of late frosts, prolonged rains and low temperatures (into early summer) have held many gardeners back from their traditional April to June purchases, and subsequently those crucial profits are falling. Many garden centres are realizing that they can no longer rely on just one season to generate the majority of their income and like their counterparts in Europe, they are focusing on the autumn planting season to balance out the year. Even though fall is an ideal time to landscape around the home, we still have to convince our customers or educate them on the benefits of autumn planting. With that in mind, here are eight incentives that we should start sharing with them:

Divide and conquer
You should be reminding your customers that fall is traditionally the best time to divide their perennials and perhaps add a few more plants to fill the voids. Achillea, Geranium, Lysimachia, Oriental poppy, Iris, Eupatorium…the list of perennial plants preferring a fall division is quite extensive and your nursery should be featuring the necessary tools (spades, forks) and know-how (through handouts or seminars) to educate your clients about this opportunity.

More time to garden
When you think about it, one of the most valuable commodities we have is time, and if people are too busy with holiday plans, home renovations or extracurricular activities then they won’t have the time or money to spend in the garden. Autumn is the perfect season to encourage your customers to start a landscape project – the children are back in school, most people have finished their summer vacations and the slightly cooler weather is more comfortable to work in.
Acer palmatum brings those fall colours to the forefront.

Swiss chard is a good cool season vegetable.

Expand your bulb offerings by offering varieties like Allium ‘Purple Sensation’.

Oriental poppies are best divided in fall.

Make the cool season winter pansy prominent for fall sales.

Save on water
With all the demands on our water supply and the persistent calls for conservation, gardeners should also be trying to do their part to conserve. Fall-planted trees and shrubs use less water as their metabolism slows and there is less evaporation from soils with the cooler air temperatures. Add to this the likelihood of regular autumn rains and we end up with a planting season without foliar scorch, dried out shrubs or water restrictions. Plants also continue to develop strong root systems during the fall, and will continue to do so as long as soil temperatures remain around 50 F or 10 C.

Selling the season
We sell flowering shrubs in spring, hanging baskets in summer and poinsettias in winter – so why shouldn’t we have a strong autumn sales market? Selling the season means bringing those fall colours to the forefront: be it hardy perennials such as asters and chrysanthemums, cool-season flowers like pansies, or trees and shrubs with bright autumn foliage. Quite often we have the latter in stock but we simply neglect to bring them forward to prominent sales areas and they end up fading somewhere in the back of the nursery where no one can see them. You are the expert so let your customer know what they should be buying by showing seasonal plants off.

Better lawns
Early fall is a great time to establish a new lawn, be it by seed or sod. The warm days and slightly cool nights promote rapid seed germination and also allow sod to quickly generate a strong root system. There is also less competition from weeds and fewer water demands, given the cooler weather.

Beyond tulips and daffodils
One autumn market that most garden centres do focus on is that of spring bulbs – primarily represented by tulips and daffodils. Part of the problem here is that our customers are only buying these two products and are passing up a wonderful array of minor bulbs simply because they are not familiar with them. Grape Hyacinths (Muscari), flowering onions (Allium), Dutch iris, snowdrops (Galanthus) and Fritillaria are just a few of the lesser-known bulbs available and most of these will also naturalize, like perennials.

Good growing garlic
Although it might be considered a bit of a niche market, home garlic growers are a dedicated group who really appreciate your service. University of Saskatchewan studies have shown that fall-planted garlic can often yield twice as much as spring-planted crops. The optimal timing for planting runs from late August to early October, depending on location and local climate. Be sure to stock several different cultivars, as well as other cool-season vegetables such as spinach and Swiss chard.

Holiday decorating
Thanksgiving and Halloween are just two good reasons to help your customers with their holiday decorating needs. Try going beyond the usual seasonal flowers and consider stocking ornamental gourds and corn, dried ornamental grass bouquets and strawflowers. In the weeks preceding Halloween, be sure to line the aisles with those perfect carving pumpkins because as long as you have children shopping with their families you’ll have strong impulse sales.

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