Cool-Weather Crops: Pansies, Cabbage And Kale

Pansies and leafy greens make for great fall baskets.

Southwood Landscape & Garden Center in Tulsa, Okla., is a single retail outlet, and between our retail and landscaping business, we produce about 20,000 flats of pansies. We have been doing this for 30 years.

Pansies are our No. 1 best-selling cool-weather crop. By far, this plant sells the largest quantity. We are able to hold a healthy margin. That is why it is so big and why we concentrate on it.

The pansy is the second biggest contributor to annual sales at Southwood. Pansies are surpassed only by our 4.5-inch annual program that runs in the spring. That program has every annual that you can think of from every breeder.

Of the pansies, violas are probably my favorite. We are seeing an upswing in sales for violas because they give you a lot of color in a smaller area. There are a lot more flowers per plant. Plus, they make it through our weather events a little bit better. The larger pansies tend to take a while to come back after a bad storm.

We also have other cool-weather crops, such as cabbage and kale, diascias, nemesias, osteospermum, calibrachoas, salvias, Swiss chard stalk and things like that. Still, our number one is the pansy. We would love to get in and sell more of these varieties like we do in the spring, but for some reason, in this part of the country, people really have their minds set on pansies.

Play Up Your Best Crop

We do a couple of things to promote our pansies. Southwood is on a corner, so we plant pansies and violas around the perimeter. Also, when we grow 20,000 flats of pansies, we have no less than 500 to a thousand flats of pansies in the store at one time. It’s pretty impressive when you walk out through the back of the store, and you see this sea of color.

Every year we hang a banner that is 85 by 12 feet of all pansies. We put that across the front of the store. We also have a smaller one that goes inside the store. We post a lot of images of pansies. There are swatches of color fabric that we put up in the store as well.

Color Block To Sell
Cool-Weather Crops

Our cool-weather crops are merchandised exactly the same way as our spring crops. We do a lot of color blocking. We try to put colors that are complimentary to each other together. For example, all the yellow-faced pansies would be with the clear-faced yellows and the violas along the side, so that all the yellows are together.

We have not yet gone the route of putting yellow mums with yellow pansies and yellow calibrachoas. The mums are done differently. We keep those separate, but again, all the yellows, all the rust-colored, all the red mums go together.

We also try not to let the tables get muddy and keep them in nice, clean, straight lines. This makes it easier for the consumer to pick and choose what they need.

The pansies are right in the very middle of the store when you walk through the main building. Probably 30 percent of our property is devoted to the bedding plant area. It’s not in the front of the store or the back of the store; it is right smack in
the middle.

What I find kind of sad, though, is that looking back through history, pansy pricing hasn’t really changed in the last 10 to 15 years. We sell a flat of pansies for $19.99. Customers also get tiered pricing. The more you buy, the better the prices. The kale, cabbage and Swiss chard are more commodity-type items and those run $3.99 for a 4.5-inch and $4.99 for a gallon.

Sell Customers On Easy-Care Crops And Containers

I tell the customers that the best thing about cool-weather crops is that they will last all the way through to spring. You get a nice, big show in the fall, and you get sporadic color through the hardest part of winter. Once winter ends, you get a nice show before you put in your spring flowers.

In terms of caring for cool-weather crops, customers don’t need to do much more than put them in the ground. They are pretty darn easy to care for. Other than putting them in the ground, we recommend using Osmocote Plant Food. It releases during warmer temperatures, and it doesn’t overfeed in colder temperatures.

Some crops, like pansies, can be used indoors and out, so we do lots of containers and ceramic pots. We dress them up with cabbage and kale. Then we add the appropriate colors, whether it is diascia or nemecia. We include pansies and violas and, occasionally, throw in crotons or leafy-type products like fall grasses or mondo grass. We also use a lot of moneywort, which is great as an accent plant.

We also do a little bit of mixing with non-cool-weather plants if the plant is meant for indoors. For the holiday season, we do a poinsettia program where the poinsettias are dressed up. We are located right next to a Home Depot, but we probably sell just as many or if not more poinsettias at a higher price because ours are all dressed with a bow. We do combinations with Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost.’ Some ivies and mixed greens are included. We do a lot of cyclamen at that time, as well.

Let Customers Pick The Plants

A lot of how we select the cool-weather plants is based on the customer. The clientele has a lot of pull, and we follow that. They ask for a lot of pansies, but diascia is another plant customers ask for. Diascias have a really good shelf life and garden performance here. Other than those, customers request the nemesias. A lot of these plants will make it through a frost or two.

As far as color preference, each year is different. One year we can really stress yellow, and they want blue. The mixes are number one, whether it’s mixed Majestic Giant or mixed clear-faced pansies.

These are usually followed by blue like a clear-faced blue or a Majestic Giant blue, and then yellow. Those are the top three sellers.

We also hit every trade show, and we work a lot with the breeders and the
brokers to find the best fit for our climate. Then we do a lot of in-house trialing to make sure the garden performance is there. When conducting the in-house trialing, we look for a couple things. Can it handle our heat and our cold? Can it stand up to our storms?

Of the cool-weather crops, pansies grow best in our area. We get heavy rain storms, as well as sleet and ice and snow, which will be followed up with 50, 60 or 70°F days. We have very erratic weather patterns here, so that is one of the things that we need to take into consideration. One time the temperature changed 100 degrees in a week. They say in Oklahoma, if you don’t like the weather, just wait 20 minutes, and it will change.

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