A Native American proverb tells us “The flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.” That sounds like it could be the greenhouse grower’s mantra this time of year. With most kitchen tables buried under layers of seed catalogs, the search is on for the newest “shiny object in the room.”

What colors and floral varieties will consumers be clamoring for this spring? Will the introduction of more disease resistant vegetables impact your product mix and replace some of your customers’ favorites?

Just as important from a grower’s perspective, what inputs and containers are best for this year’s crop? Will traditional cell-pack flats be included in your product mix or are your customers looking for the more immediate gratification that comes with larger plantings? What about container gardens? It becomes the horticultural equivalent of playing a game of three-dimensional chess.

When it comes to any crop planning almost a year in advance, a crystal ball that predicts the future would come in handy. We asked several Midwest greenhouse growers what they thought spring 2024 might look like and how that would impact their crop planning. A soft economy and inflation were some concerns mentioned, but anyone that plants a seed or cutting and ends up with a beautiful flower has hope and faith running through their veins.

Reid Rathjen of Rathjen Greenhouse and Garden Center is a perfect example. His family’s second- generation greenhouse business in Oostburg, WI, first opened in 1969. While annual flowers are the bread-and-butter of the operation, their product mix also offers a selection of herbs and vegetable plants. The business began as a wholesale grower and expanded to spring and summer retail sales just 15 years ago.

Sizing Up

Floral patio planters have become a strong seller at Rathjen’s. When it comes to larger containers of vegetables and herbs, however, they have discovered mixed results.

“Herb containers are somewhat popular, but you can’t predict what people want,” he explained. “It’s tough to come up with a container mix that pleases a lot of people. One thing that is popular, however, is our patio container tomatoes.”

With less time and less space to devote to gardening, the trend of containers continues in 2024. Photo by Gail March Yerke

Reid has witnessed a gradual transition in what size plantings his customers prefer. Select vegetables and annual flowers will continue to be offered in four-packs, but he plans to expand their collection of larger plantings this spring.

“Our 4.5-inch pot size production may be increasing and we’ll grow more floral container gardens,” he said. He pointed out that their container garden sales have continued to climb because people just have less time for full-scale gardening.

With over an acre under cover, the greenhouse does not plan to add more square footage this year. “The big question is how our economy will be next spring; our industry is reliant on disposable income,” he said.

Despite that, growers are a hopeful lot and there are always exciting new varieties to try out. Some of the newer coleus varieties will be trialed there this spring along with additional vines, grasses and variegated leaf plants. “Our industry is constantly changing and there’s always a color that pops,” he concluded.

Another Perspective

Paul Sadowski and his sister Jennifer Wollner own and operate Groth’s Country Gardens in Cedarburg, WI. The fourth-generation business began in 1928 with just two glass greenhouses. Helping and learning the family business over the years, the siblings took over management from their father, Bruce Sadowski, in 2014.

Their outlook for 2024 is positive. “I’m in a unique situation,” said Paul. “One of our nearby colleagues closed last year and we saw a 20% increase in May sales.” He expects to pick up more customers this spring and they are adding an additional 7,600 square feet of greenhouses in time for production.


A sensitive topic for most businesses, pricing can be the elephant in the room every spring season for growers.

“The last two seasons we raised prices across the board,” Paul said. Despite labor cost increases and heat source factors, he doesn’t believe they will have to do that this year. “There are a few items, however, that we need to catch up to the market this spring,” he added.

Planning for the following spring’s crop begins in June. Plant inventories are taken at Memorial Day and again in mid-June. Paul indicated that they grow a lot of the Proven Winners varieties. “I tweak that order 25 or 30 times before that is sent in,” he said. “We make adjustments based on the shows and tours we go to. We’ll pick up ideas going to our grower conferences.”

Members of the Wisconsin Commercial Growers, he added that it’s talking with other growers at meetings and seminars that often leads to new ideas for their own greenhouse.

Product Mix

Groth’s Country Gardens has seen a consistent rise in herb sales every year. While the sales of annual flower in packs and flats have been stagnant, increases have been seen in larger size plant material.

“I would say the biggest thing that I’ve noticed is that people are willing to pay $100 or more for the 18- to 24-inch size patio containers,” Paul said.

While the new seed catalogs boast the latest and greatest varieties for 2024, remember to check data from your state’s regional trial gardens. Many universities provide this information online. It’s exciting to bring in new colors and product, but remember to include the tried-and-true varieties of flowers, herbs and vegetable plants that your customers like. Trends seem to be going to larger container gardens and pot-size plantings as well.

Whatever you decide is best for your greenhouse, remember that tomorrow’s flowers start with your strategic planning today.

by Gail March Yerke