Although fall is the end of the growing season, Mother Nature goes out with a bang. As the days become shorter and the evenings have a hint of delicious coolness, trees, shrubs and grasses often shift into dormancy with a brilliant splash of color in some parts of the country. And, in other regions, the extreme heat takes a break, sparking a similar but less dramatic shift in temperatures and hues. In addition, there are many annuals and perennials that take a cue from the diminishing sunlight and burst into bloom. Commercial and residential landscapes offer yet another opportunity for a bit of extra service (and profit) with a focus on fall color.
Falling for color
In the arid West, fall is a great time to renew landscapes that are weary from the relentless heat of summer. Residents and visitors are ready to again enjoy the great outdoors, and planning, installing and maintaining a fall display of flowers is a great way to welcome them.
GTI Landscape is a Las Vegas-based independently owned landscape maintenance firm. The company has many commercial and large residential contracts, which include several homeowners’ associations (HOAs).
Account manager Shirl McMayon has worked to grow the company’s commercial maintenance contracts, and part of the bid-winning procedure is to precisely specify how many changes are included for flowerbeds, and even the types of plants.
“You very specifically state that color installations are an additional cost. So, for example, we will say there will be three color rotations a year, then we have a list to chose from,” McMayon explains.
“We just bid a large HOA, and I ended up getting very detailed on the color program,” McMayon says. “I even included images of all of the flowers. They said they had never seen such a detailed presentation.
“When my boss and I went for an interview with the board of directors, we walked in with color in our hands,” McMayon recalls. “So we are sitting there, talking irrigation and landscape maintenance and other topics that might not be all that exciting. Then we reach out and show them color combinations with the plants we brought. As we got up to leave, my boss leaned over and said to the board, ‘Why don’t you keep these? We really don’t want to take them back to the truck.’ It was brilliant! It cost maybe $25 and made such an impact.” And, yes, they won the bid.
Fall color trends
At Twin Pines Landscaping in Southborough, Massachusetts, traditional fall colors are always in style. Since 1991, owners Chris and Andy Hopkins have grown their business, offering landscape installation, construction and snow removal. Fall flowers offer yet another profitable service for the company.
“Fall color trends (this year) seem to be fairly similar to trends of the past,” says Ashley DiFranza, marketing consultant with Twin Pines. “Most of our customers tend to stick to the common browns, oranges, reds and deep yellows. Others get a little more creative, requesting flowers in burgundy, eggplant purple and even deep green.”
The economy has finally turned in the East, and the Hopkins have found that a double-edged sword. “Because the economy has come back quite a bit this year, the landscaping demands have risen as well,” DiFranza explains. “This has created supply problems among landscapers, and recently we have been forced to go with what flowers and plants are available for our customers, rather than what people are specifically requesting.”
Vanessa Mueller, the horticulturist and wholesale sales manager at Johnson’s Nursery in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, agrees that the recovering economy has made it a challenge to supply some client favorites. “There’s definitely a shortage of boxwood,” says Mueller. “Really slim pickings in the larger sizes.”
Heading south to Florida, Costa Farms, based in Miami, supplies the state and ships throughout the region. As far as the upcoming fall season goes, “You can’t go wrong with the classics – oranges are as popular as ever, as are rich golds, deep reds and dark velvety shades of purple,” says Justin Hancock, consumer marketing and digital specialist for Costa Farms. “Some great accent colors include sage green (it’s so sophisticated and a great neutral), teal (to add a fresh touch for fall) and amethyst purple.”
Hancock also notes that some old-fashioned plants are being sought after as well. “We see mums being as popular as ever. Consumers love the big burst of color mums provide, especially that high-impact look they provide when the plants are practically smothered in blooms,” Hancock says. “Crotons are going to be going out in higher numbers, too, especially for container plantings. These tropical beauties show off a wonderful mix of red, gold and orange fall tones in their leaves and offer an accent that looks great well through Halloween thanks to their texture.”
Containers a big way to bring color to the landscape
Containers are becoming more and more popular with consumers, both residential and commercial. They are a perfect way to introduce fall flowers into a landscape.
“We’re seeing a lot more requests for planter boxes in unique areas around the home, such as entryways, along paths and in gardens themselves,” says DiFranza. “We are seeing similar trends for commercial buildings this year, which has been interesting.
“For a current project we’re doing for a customer, instead of stump grinding trees that have been removed, we’re hollowing out the middle of the stump and planting flowers there as a unique container.”
Although Wisconsin’s harsh winters can make container gardening a challenge, Mueller still sees sales possibilities. “A lot of landscape companies provide winter and fall interest with containers,” she says. “We see them using boxwood and junipers (which turn a wonderful ‘plummy’ color), which transition really well in winter. Junipers are tougher than arborvitae and can handle freeze-and-thaw.”
As far as getting the word out to clients, most of the time all it takes is a reminder. “We just tell them this is the last chance they have before winter to spruce up their landscapes,” says McMayon. “That’s usually all we have to say.”
“For us, selling fall color is really a matter of reminding our customers that their consumers have a strong desire to refresh their containers and garden beds/borders for the fall season,” says Hancock. “Often, summer plants will start to fizzle out come fall, so it’s a fairly natural sell once you remind consumers that it’s time to get a new look for the change in seasons.”
“This year, we’re trying something new. We gather information on current trends from both experts outside of our company as well as from our own personal research. We then use our blog to publish our findings and post to our popular social media pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where our customers can easily access the information,” says DiFranza. “We do the more traditional marketing endeavors like fliers when mailing out invoices, as well.”
“This year, things have been moving so quickly, you don’t have to do much to sell at all,” Mueller admits.
“We sell color at $40 a flat installed,” says McMayon. “But we also offer what we call premium color. Lately during fall and winter, that means cyclamen. We charge $80 a flat and people don’t bat an eye.”
With the economy heating up as the weather begins cooling down, take advantage of the economic recovery and offer your customers a splash of color to complement the changing leaves. Remember, fall is for planting… and for profits!