by Sally Colby
You’ve made sure that your employees have carefully unloaded each shipment of holiday plants arriving from growers, checked them for viability and placed them in the most appropriate location according to species.
Once a customer has carefully chosen a live plant for her own home or for a gift, how can you make sure that plant thrives? The chance of someone returning next year, or referring friends and neighbors to your establishment is heavily dependent on the success your customers have with plants purchased from your garden center.
Although the plants were viable when they arrived, it’s up to you and your staff to ensure they remain healthy and attractive for customers. The poinsettia is probably the most highly recognized Christmas plant, and many customers will purchase at least one for their home. It’s important to ensure that poinsettias arriving from the grower remain in the best possible condition throughout the sales season.
When poinsettias arrive from the grower, carefully remove the sleeves and determine whether the plants need water. After watering, be sure that the plant is well drained and that the root ball is not sitting in excess moisture. Remember that poinsettias were grown in a greenhouse setting with carefully controlled irrigation, and now it’s up to you and your staff to ensure proper watering of individual plants. Make sure employees know how to check the moisture level of plants on the sales floor, and instruct them to water only when media is dry to the touch.
Poinsettias are often used in tiered displays near entrances, which can expose them to extreme temperature fluctuations throughout the day. Watch these plants carefully for signs of stress and leaf drop – it’s important that each plant remains in the best possible condition to represent the stock on your sales floor. Remove any plant material that is damaged.
Cyclamen is a plant that has showy foliage with interesting patterns as well as unique flowers that will last a long time. This plant, which is native to the Mediterranean and southern Europe, is available in an array of colors from white to reds and pinks. It has the potential to continue blooming throughout the winter into spring, and doesn’t look as ‘Christmas’ as a poinsettia so it’s a good choice for the customer who wants a long-term plant.
It’s important to keep cyclamen tidy and neat in the retail setting so they’re attractive to customers. Employees should be instructed to remove spent flowers by gently twisting and pulling out the stems from their base. This will encourage new buds to continue to develop and bloom. The natural growth habit of the plant is to send out flowering buds from the center, surrounded by leaves, and this habit can be encouraged by gently moving leaves away from the center.
The cyclamen prefers a cool environment with humidity – something that is likely lacking in the customer’s home. A good display might include cyclamen on trays with gravel and water, and suggests to the customer that the plant will thrive when it’s provided with adequate environmental humidity. Be careful not to overwater cyclamen as it’s prone to fungal disease in the presence of excess moisture. Adequate spacing and good air circulation will help deter fungal disease.
The Christmas cactus is a plant that is often shared; sometimes passed down from generation to generation. But many people don’t have a Christmas cactus and are happy to purchase one for themselves, or to give as a Christmas gift.
Christmas cactus are popular gifts because they’re nearly fail-proof in the home. The flowers range in color from lights including white, peach and orange to more intense reds and purples. They’re easy to maintain and long-lived, and require just some basic care.
Customers should be aware that Christmas cactus and its Schlumbergera relatives aren’t true cacti – they’re an epiphyte, and can be found growing in leaf debris in their native Brazil. This means that they require ample humidity throughout the year.
Some customers might comment that their Christmas cactus behaves more like a Thanksgiving cactus because of its bloom time. In that case, explain that the customer probably has a Thanksgiving cactus, which is a related species in the same family. The flattened stem segments on a Thanksgiving cactus have serrated projections along the margins, while the stem margins on a Christmas cactus are smoother. This is a good opportunity to offer a Christmas cactus to add to the ‘family’ with a plant that will flower at Christmas time.
One of the most frustrating aspects of Christmas cactus is that newly developed flower buds often drop from the plant. This is usually due to lack of light or humidity, or too much water. Although this is one of the hardier, fail-proof plants for homeowners, it’s important to monitor Christmas cactus in the retail setting for signs of stress, and remove any dead or dying sections.
When it comes to displaying plants in a retail setting, use the same level of creativity you’ve expended for other areas. Although a greenhouse section of a retail garden center will include a number of the same plants in one area, use a bit of creativity and place plants among displays in other retail areas of the store. Christmas plants can be placed among other items and layered to add dimension. Use just one or two of each kind of plant among ornaments or other Christmas offerings to create for the customer a unique opportunity to purchase the ‘last’ plant or one that’s special.
With a good display, the savvy retailer can highlight other items that might be purchased with a Christmas plant, including trays, pebbles and decorative containers. Provide a written list of care instructions for each type of plant, including light and temperature requirements and a watering guide.
Watering is probably the most critical factor in successfully maintaining any plant, especially one that is transferred from the greenhouse environment to a home that’s likely to be lower in humidity. Make sure each employee is familiar with the basic care of these seasonal plants and can answer customers’ questions. When the customer is successful in maintaining a plant through the holiday season, you’re more likely to be their first choice when it comes to selecting a live gift next year.