The Future of Retail Garden Sales

We have seen the Internet’s impacts on many aspects of society, such as music distribution, newspaper printing, television and radio broadcasting, and too many other fields to list.

Retail marketing is among those other fields that have been disrupted by the Internet, and the marketing of plants for home gardening could be transformed by this technology on the future.

We might have fond recollections of shopping for plants as the experience of browsing through our favorite independent garden center, seeking inspiration and friendly advice. While that form of retail marketing of plants still exists for most gardeners, two major changes have already occurred.

First, is the emergence of mail order plant sales, which I have often mentioned. Local garden centers typically provide a valued service by offering regionally appropriate popular plant selections on a seasonal schedule. By comparison, their mail-order competitors offer dramatically wider selections and the convenience of home delivery. The downside of acquiring plants in this way is that the gardener doesn’t have an opportunity to see the plant before it shows up on the doorstep. With reputable suppliers, however, the delivery will be a well-grown, disease-free plant, exactly as ordered.

A great and growing variety of mail-order suppliers has developed. Their advertisements and web addresses can be found in the pages of garden magazines. A useful directory of mail order plant suppliers is available online, in Cyndi’s Catalog of Garden Catalogs. To find sources of California native plants on this website, click on “Native Plants,” then search for “California.”

Anther strategy is to search for a specific botanical name

Wholesale growers have begun offering their plants by mail, sometimes at prices below those found at retail outlets. The retailers do not appreciate being bypassed in this manner, particularly since they provide gardeners with drop-in facilities and personalized attention.

In some cases, wholesalers collaborate with retailer garden centers through an arrangement called BOPUS (Buy Online Pick Up in Store). This works particularly well for after-hours orders.

Another alternative to the independent garden center includes the big-box stores, also called superstores. These are physically large retail establishments, usually part of a chain. Attractive prices can be found, while the care of plants can vary depending on the location. A report in the current issue of Nursery Management magazine indicates that big box stores have garners 83 percent of plant sales, with the remaining 17 percent going to independent garden centers.

The future of garden plant sales could involve a combination of the buying power of big-box stores, the efficiency of mail-order sales, and the marketing technologies of the Internet. As we order through e-commerce giants like Amazon, Netflix, and others, we see increasing applications of predictive analytics and artificial intelligence, with which the seller uses our previous purchases and perhaps our profile information to suggest which plants to buy. We have already seen experiments with the seller’s use of FaceTime technology to help gardeners to decide where to plant and what to plant.

Another stage in this line of development is “Uber of Landscapers” concept, in which the seller uses Internet technology also connects the gardener with a local landscaper to install and maintain the plant being purchased. Amazon Services has already bought a company that uses a mobile app to send landscapers directly to users’ homes.

In the not-too-distant future, the home gardener might use a smartphone to show a neglected corner of his or her garden to remote plant supplier, and ask, “What would look good here?” After a bit of dialog, the supplier recommends one or more plants, the gardener orders one, and the supplier provides a referral to a local landscaper for the installation. If the gardener has ordered many plants, or perhaps a larger shrub or tree, he or she might add installation to the plant order, and negotiate the schedule.

As this brave new world of gardening arrives, I trust that we could order plants that have been certified as organically grown and pollinator-safe.

Charlie Keutmann atThe Garden Company

Charlie Keutmann at The Garden Company, in Santa Cruz

Photo by Dan Coyro, Santa Cruz County Sentinel



Gardening by keyboard has certain benefits, but it will not replace the direct experience of walking through one’s own garden or the local garden center to plan future additions.

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