Ask an Expert
Gardening has grown by leaps and bounds in 2020, and it’s not slowing down. Recent upticks in working from home, strong home sales, and sustained interest in gardening itself point toward continued growth in the months ahead. But as a savvy gardener, you want to stay on trend. Whether your goal is to hunker down in your own lush retreat or to buy or sell a home, understanding garden trends will help you plan and purchase better and improve your gardening skills. To learn more about what’s on the horizon, we enlisted the expert advice of Katie Dubow, president of the award-winning lawn and garden public relations agency Garden Media Group.
New Plant Releases
Each spring, growers release new plant cultivars for sale in garden centers. Many of these plants are brand-new extensions of existing plant lines, with enhanced features like new flower colors or better disease resistance. Some of these new plants exhibit never-before-seen characteristics, such as a dwarf growth habit or new fruit color. When asked which new plant releases she most looks forward to seeing in garden centers in 2021, Dubow shared these:
• Encore Azalea has a well-earned reputation for bringing lush and long-lasting azaleas to market, and their spring 2021 new releases are no exception. Autumn Starburst is a playful bicolor bloom that layers coral patterns on white margins. Autumn Majesty pairs bold purple color with soft ruffled blooms.
• Midnight Cascade from the Bushel and Berry Collection is the first hanging basket blueberry on the market! White bell-shaped flowers in the spring lead to an abundant summer crop of blueberries. The ripe fruit is packed with antioxidants and aromatic vanilla flavors, and the foliage has hints of red that will darken in the fall weather.
• Syringa New Age Lavender It's a new age for lilacs! This compact, well-behaved lilac from Bloomables finishes faster than others on the market. It produces fragrant flowers in the spring, is resistant to mildew, and displays attractive foliage throughout the season.
Safe and Convenient Garden Shopping
Garden centers had to make lightning-fast changes in their operations last spring. In 2021, look for the continued availability of conveniences like home delivery and curbside pickup. As for selection, Dubow says, “Garden centers will offer fewer products, but those with more quality. People will be able to buy in bundles—for instance, pollinator gardens, shade gardens, and so on, for easier ordering and supply-chain management.” Other conveniences we’ll begin to see include wider shopping lanes, more ready-made gardens, mobile in-store checkout, and virtual shopping.
More Home-Grown Food
Spending more time at home, and spending more of that time cooking, has led to a renewed interest in food gardening. “Home food growing is a huge trend—that iconic Victory Garden is on everyone’s mind,” Dubow reports. “And for parents who have kids learning from home, growing edible plants is covering snack time, physical education, and science class in one fell swoop! Bushel and Berry’s collection, which includes blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, is a culinary crowd-pleaser, and because these small plants grow well in either containers or the landscape, they’re a great option for different home garden settings.”
Vibrant Backyard Habitat
Gardeners desire safe backyards. They want some grass for play, but they want the rest of the yard arrayed with a variety of plants. Major concerns include eliminating the use of toxic chemicals and making the space safe for family, pets, and pollinators. According to Dubow, “People are shifting away from ‘dead’ landscapes filled with mulch and plants for decoration, to co-creating with nature. People are looking for functional and beautiful landscapes.”
Improved Quality of Life
Gardening is a wonderful way to manage stress and enhance wellness, and this past spring gave many the opportunity to reconnect with their gardens or nearby green spaces. In 2021, gardening will continue to provide a creative outlet. There will be a lot of interest in cultivating a backyard oasis, whether people are heading back to the office or continuing to work from home. Dubow explains, “Yards need to be Zoom-background ready, hands-on learning zones to keep kids entertained, and space for adults to unwind as well.”
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Today’s new gardener is a backyard aficionado, interested in growing food, expanding backyard activities, and improving wellness. While some amount of lawn space will remain important for outdoor enjoyment, new gardeners seek to go beyond grass, looking for native plantings that support wildlife and setting aside space to grow vegetables, herbs, and fruit. As well, they want to use fewer synthetic chemicals, relying instead on natural processes to build a healthful outdoor living space. With such an assortment of goals, how will new gardeners learn the ropes?
According to Dubow, as they have in the past, new gardeners will start by asking family and friends. “The over-the-fence model is stronger than ever,” Dubow says. “But community groups online are also great sources of information. Joining a local gardening group will not only give you important regional tips, but connect you with local people who love to garden, and you might even score some free plants.”
Gardening in the city has been on the rise for years. So what’s on the horizon for 2021? As Dubow notes, “We’re seeing some of the most cutting-edge garden innovation coming from urban gardeners. Garden influencers are really pushing the limit of what people think is possible in a small space.” Among the up-and-coming trends: Urban gardeners are building “garden rooms.” Houseplants have become the background of choice for virtual meetings, and demand for them will continue to rise. Vertical gardening products will help gardeners use small spaces more efficiently, as will new container-compatible varieties of berry bushes and other edibles.
Last spring and summer, interest rates dropped and house hunters turned into home buyers, with gardening space being one of the hottest selling points. The explosion of work-from-home employment combined with the increase in homeownership triggered a spike in first-time gardeners. Industry experts like Dubow anticipate 80 percent of last year’s first-time gardeners will give it a go again in 2021.
Which leads us to another trend that Dubow points out: “With the boom in gardening, gardeners and elected officials alike are surprised to encounter long-standing rules on things like temporary greenhouses and replacing lawns with native plants. But states and communities are taking a second look at some of these policies in light of major public interest in gardening, so the year ahead will be important for increased approvals and movement in this arena.”
D-I-A (Do It Again)
Gardening and DIY go hand in hand. Just as the increase in time spent at home inspired many folks to start gardening for the first time in 2020, experienced gardeners took on more ambitious projects. In times like these, both DIYers and industry professionals are busy. As Dubow puts it, “You’ll see people adding new raised beds and creating outdoor rooms. But there are still times we rely on an expert. Have a big tree you need caring for? Certified arborists will be important to evaluate and treat an issue.”
In 2020, gardeners experienced shortages in seed supplies. Favorite seed varieties were sold out online, and store seed racks were riddled with empty slots. Now is the time to start planning. According to Dubow, “Seed companies could not keep up in 2020, and early indications show the same will be true in 2021. I’ve already seen people placing orders, seed websites keeping people updated on their stock, and high demand for spring.”
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