Be the Regional Experts – Garden Center Magazine

Garden centers aren’t just a destination for plants, they’re sources of advice that offer local expertise ranging from the perfect plants for your climate to soil conditions and more.

Photo © dusanpetkovic1 | Adobe Stock

Do you remember that time when a client walked into your nursery with a plan drawn up by a landscape architect from outside the region? I can ask this question and be pretty confident that many of those reading this will nod their heads, roll their eyes, or both. Most IGC employees have occasionally looked at a client’s design, knowing instantly that the person who drew it had no idea what plants were blooming or failing in your area.

Those who work in horticulture know that all gardening is regional. What thrives in one area may struggle if planted 50 miles north or several hundred feet up the mountain. Rain patterns can vary from place to place within the same state, and proximity to water can make a property hotter, colder, or just brutally windy. Even in the same yard, one spot is often warmer and more sheltered, while a few yards away is a shaded wind tunnel.

Such local and regional differences offer garden centers the opportunity to distinguish themselves from warehouse stores by becoming the experts of the region. This can be conveyed to your customers in a variety of ways, which add to positioning your IGC as the go-to authority on gardening.

What’s in bloom?

Customers frequently walk into a nursery looking for “that purple flower I see in everyone’s gardens right now.” Others buy plants that will bloom at specific times so that there is as much color as possible in their garden. As a local expert, you can help your customers by explaining which plants bloom in different seasons.

Create a “What’s in Bloom?” bulletin board where photos of flowering plants and their names are posted every two weeks. Post photos of plants that are currently blooming on your company blog, in your newsletter, or on social media. Since the weather is often short in spring and early summer, pick one place to post and do it regularly.

Another way to highlight plants that bloom in your area is to have a place in the store where cut flowers can be displayed. Gather a dozen clear glass bottles of varying sizes and dedicate a shelf where the stems can be displayed. Use blank place cards, available at craft stores or online, to write the names of the flowers on display. This map could also tell customers where to find these plants in your nursery.

Ask the weather forecast

Whether it’s a late frost, windstorm or crushing hail; local weather affects yards and gardens all year round. A regional expert recognizes that such events are on every homeowner’s mind and will promptly respond to them – for example, posting about dealing with broken branches after heavy spring snow. Explain how best to plant plants twisted by saturated soils and high winds. Tell your customers if the soil is too wet to work, how to help plants through a drought, or if there has been enough rain to stop irrigation.

Some garden centers publish such information in their newsletter or on their website, while others publish a weekly regional update which is only available if a customer enters the store. If you decide to print your own one-page newsletter, it can include recent weather events, a “What’s in Bloom” section, and a timely list of products that are used in area landscapes.

Best Plants for Area Gardens

We all sell plants that are difficult to grow, others that need a little extra pampering, and many that are cast-iron choices for local landscapes. While experienced gardeners and plant geeks might be willing to take a chance on a slightly hardy or temperamental variety, most of our customers would prefer more reliable selections.

Consider grouping these plants together in a special display or in a particular section. Feature them in your online publications or create listings that a customer can pick up while shopping at your nursery. Call them the “most likely to succeed [your city’s name here]and explain to buyers why your company, as the regional plant expert, has chosen to present them.

Introduce a “weed of the week” and explain how weeds like sorrel (shown here) can give customers insight into their soil types.

Photo © VICTORIA | Adobe Stock

Weed of the week

The average store will sell herbicides to its customers, but most will know nothing about the weeds people are dealing with in their garden. You, on the other hand, can tell which weeds gardeners are likely to see at any time of the year. Give your customers information about this plant and why it appears where and when it appears. “Did you know sorrel is an indicator weed? It grows best in acidic conditions, so a large amount of sorrel in your garden means your soil is probably quite acidic,” is just one example.

Some weeds have a great story about how they came to this country or how they were used for medicinal purposes in the past. Yes, the customer is most concerned about how to get rid of their weeds, but a few fun facts are not only entertaining, but once again demonstrate that you are the regional experts.

Finally, in addition to acting like factory authorities, don’t be afraid to remind people. If you are in Pittsburgh, PA, have Pittsburgh’s Plant Experts on the back of your company shirts, on your name tags, and on the sign at the entrance. It’s a claim national chain stores can’t make, but one that naturally fits the IGC.

CL Fornari is a speaker, writer and radio/podcast host who has worked at Hyannis Country Garden, an IGC on Cape Cod, for over 20 years. She convinced her audience that CL stands for “Compost Lover”. Learn more at