Garden centers have the opportunity to become environmental leaders in their communities. By demonstrating sustainable gardening practices in our store, customers have learned how some simple projects can positively impact the eco-systems in their own yards. Here are some highlights:
• Reduce Waste – Garden centers produce two main forms of waste: plastic and yard waste. Containers, trays and cell packs are all recyclable, but the service may not be available in all areas. The Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis started a recycling program called “Pots to Planks.” The plastic collected is chipped and formed into planks that are used in building projects.
Another strategy for reducing plastic waste is reusing plastic pots. We encourage our customers to return their “Greenscape Grown” pots for reuse. In winter (when we’re slow!) the pots are cleaned and reused for the next season’s crop. This year, our pots will have the recycling symbol prominently printed on them to remind the customer that it can be brought back to us. This also gets them back into our store! A great alternative to plastic pots are rice hull pots. These pots will biodegrade within a few years.
Yard waste can be handled in-house, or a service can be used. We don’t have enough space to compost all of our yard waste, so we have a service that picks it up on a weekly basis. A simple compost bin can be set up at the garden center to demonstrate how easy it is to make compost at home. Marked yard waste bins can be set around the garden center, along with bins for recycling regular waste like paper and cans.
• Water Conservation – Irrigation systems can be set up so that they are efficient and effective (some of our irrigation is even powered by solar energy). The most efficient form of watering is by drip lines. Overhead watering should be avoided whenever possible. Water collection can be demonstrated by rain barrels. The rain barrels may not hold enough volume to water everything, but pick an area in which a rain barrel can be used and encourage customers to do this in their own yards.
• Buy Local Or Grow Your Own (whenever possible) – Be sure to use your locally or homegrown plants in your POP signage and advertising. Consumers are interested in supporting the local businesses in their communities, and this is an angle where independents can have a huge advantage over the big boxes.
• Offer A Good Selection Of Plants Native To Your Region – Become a member of a native plant society. The Missouri Department of Conservation has a fabulous program called “Grow Native!,” which provides the marketing tools needed to create a successful native plants department. Other programs are nationally available, like “American Beauties.” This department can also contain plants that are commonly used in xeriscaping.
• Encourage The Use Of Organic Or Natural Garden Products – Find natural products that work and make them your “best sellers.” Test a product before recommending it – consumers may be discouraged if their first experience is not a good one. Start them off with organic fertilizers, like Plant-Tone, and make sure they’ll be successful so they’ll be back for more!
• Install A Green Roof – Demonstrate the benefits of a green roof. We have a small one on a tool shed. Not only is it very aesthetically pleasing, it helps people understand the importance of green space.
• Support the “Trees Are Cool” Campaign – POP materials can be purchased from Bailey Nurseries for this program (more info at www.unep.org).
The “green industry” has a whole new meaning. We no longer just sell plants – we are stewards of the environment. Becoming a greener garden center will create a sense of purpose for both garden center staff and customers.
So … go green!