We know you can barely contain your glee when a customer talks about going big. But if you’re like most garden centers, you’ve been hearing the word “mini” a whole lot lately, and you shouldn’t let it dampen your enthusiasm by even a drop. From trains to boot cottages, fairylands to gnome homes, a veritable cute craze has taken over the specialty gardening arena. And sales are anything but Lilliputian.
Experienced and beginning gardeners alike are making not-so-mini demands for the teensy-weensy plants they need to craft their own, live miniature garden masterpieces. Your garden center can have a slice of this pie – so make sure you understand miniature plant stock and how to promote it.
First off, what makes a mini-plant right for a specialty garden? Frances Hopkins, president of Under A Foot Plant Company, says there’s a good reason her Stepables product line has been popular with specialty gardeners since way before the trend took off. These tough little groundcovers and perennials “lend themselves to being stuffed into tiny places, cover wherever needed and require little fertilizer.” Plus, many Stepables have a super-low, tight-to-the-ground growth habit that only reaches ¼ inch in height – just right for miniature gardening.
Making Miniature Plants
How do mini plants get so mini? The secret behind their diminutive size is a combination of genetics and maintenance. While Stepables are selected largely for their growth habit, many mini plants are kept small through regular pruning. “Genetics help, but all healthy plants will grow,” says Bill Byland, manager at Micky’s Minis, a popular miniature plant wholesaler. “We recommend our miniatures be repotted to larger plants after they bloom out or you can keep trimming them back.”
Anna Risan creates miniature landscapes and fairy gardens for herself and Tonkadale Greenhouse in the Minneapolis Twin Cities metro area. “Most of the plants we use for indoor miniature gardens are cuttings we have taken from our houseplants,” she says. “I tell customers these plants will ultimately grow larger and they need to ‘prune the bushes,’ as part of their miniature gardens maintenance.”
In other cases, as with the 2-inch Ittie Bitties line of plants from Batson’s Foliage Group, Inc., nature and nurture come together to make relatively low-care plants. Ittie Bitties are regular plants that have been sprayed with plant growth regulators to keep them tiny, but President of Batson’s Kelley Batson Howard, adds that, “once these plants enter into the terrarium containers, the environment naturally retards their growth. We also picked varieties that would only get better with the occasional pruning over the long haul.” Most detail-oriented miniature garden keepers won’t have a problem with regular upkeep. Just make sure your staff is informed enough to make care recommendations at the register.
If you think mini plants can do big things for your garden center, you have plenty of sourcing options. Micky’s Minis, in St. Louis, Mo., is a noted source for mini polka dot plants, kalanchoes, violets and other blooming miniatures. Under a Foot Plant Company is always expanding the Stepables line. Batson’s is enjoying the popularity of their Ittie Bitties and plans to introduce Ittie Bittie Ferns along with more true miniatures and tropicals. Other trusted sources include MiniForest.com, and Stanley and Sons Nursery and Iseli Nursery out of Boring, Ore.
Like Tonkadale, many retailers supplement their stock by taking cuttings from houseplants. Risan says baby tears, small-leaf ivies, angel vine and goldfish plants are all good candidates.
Where’s The Trend Going?
While the mini craze may seem to have a mind of its own, don’t underestimate the role of garden centers in directing the trend. Byland says he never could have envisioned this application for Micky’s Minis’ products. “It was our customers, the retailers, that made this concept work.”
A bit of clever positioning can help with sales of minis. Hopkins recommends placing plants like Stepables alongside other perennials instead of with other groundcovers. “Consumers are shopping the perennial section on a day to day basis,” she says. “The groundcover section lends itself to only being shopped by consumers needing to fill a large area.” Byland recommends the tactic grocers use to sell sugary cereals: keep them at a level where kids can touch and smell them. It’s always profitable to get them started young!
But ultimately, leading by example is what will turn over miniature merchandise. At Tonkadale, Risan lays out all of the center’s small, indoor terrarium plants next to the fairy gardens she displays for inspiration.
“When a customer sees a plant I have used in the garden, they don’t have far to go to find it to purchase,” she says. And keep your displays constantly evolving, because specialty gardens are hardly a seasonal trend. Winter customers come into Tonkadale for tabletop or holiday gardens. Then in summer, Risan says, “I add some annuals for color and some of the outdoor perennials to give customers ideas on how to use them.”
But let’s talk bottom line: has the craze been profitable enough to coax garden centers and wholesalers alike to expand their mini plant lines? The unanimous answer: Yes. “Fairy gardening has become very large for us,” Risan says. “We are constantly looking for new plants to add to our inventory.”
Hopkins echoed the sentiment, saying that Under a Foot Plant Company isn’t content to stick with the 160-plus plants currently in the Stepables family. “We will always keep our eyes open for neat little creepers that we think will fill a void in our line,” she says.
The market for teeny is huge. In fact, mini could be the biggest thing you do to boost business this year.