When retail greenhouse space gets scarce, plants literally get stacked up. Photo: L. Stivers, Penn State
What happens when poor weather keeps customers at home, and retail greenhouses get crowded? Inclement spring weather can delay retail plant sales, as customers wait for warmer, sunnier days to begin gardening. As space in the greenhouse gets scarce, and plants keep growing bigger, think carefully about where and how you are displaying your products.
Plants get stacked vertically
When every inch of bench space is filled with plants, flats of smaller plants often get moved to the floor under the bench. Baskets are hung on two and even three levels above the benches. Light quality and quantity diminish (see e-Gro Alert 5:21, March 2016). If low light conditions remain for many days, plants will tend to stretch, especially those on the floor.
Photo 2(A) L. Stivers, Penn State
Photo 2(B) L. Stivers, Penn State
Photos 2(A) and 2(B). Placing flats under benches 2(A) is one way to deal with crowding in the greenhouse, but low light conditions will trigger plants to stretch, lowering quality. Signs of nutrient deficiencies 2(B) can often be found in overcrowded, overgrown transplants.
Plants get crowded horizontally
Not only is there no extra elbow room on the bench, but plants are growing every day they wait to be sold. This horizontal crowding creates excellent conditions for foliar diseases and also for stretching. As neighboring plants grow intertwined, it is easier for customers to damage them when pulling their selections off the bench.
Plants outgrow their rooting space
Many annuals, particularly vegetable transplants, are grown in relatively small containers or cells. If they remain in the cells too long, they may wilt frequently, and also start to show nutrient deficiencies. This lowers their visual appeal, and can hinder sales.
Retail spaces become visually confusing
Customers entering a retail greenhouse bursting with plants can be overwhelmed and confused by the jungle. With so many choices, it can be difficult for customers to find what they are looking for, to move freely along the aisles, or to differentiate between similar products.
Photo 3. Vigorous growth and crowded conditions can make a display bench look like a jungle. This may make it harder for customers to find what they are looking for, and can increase plant damage as shoppers separate plants for purchase. Photo: L. Stivers, Penn State
What can be done?
I went looking to find how local growers were managing tight greenhouse space. One retail greenhouse takes advantage of the microclimate created by parallel houses to expand their display area (Photo 4A). This operation carries a large number of heirloom tomato varieties, and the long, wide walkway makes it easy for shoppers to browse. Another (Photo 4B) maintains clean, straight lines of product on the retail bench to combat the jungle look. They use exceptional signage to make it easier to identify and differentiate floral products even if crowded together. Shade-tolerant ferns occupy the floor space.
Photo 4(A) L. Stivers, Penn State
Photo 4(B) L. Stivers, Penn State
Photos 4(A) and 4(B). The greenhouse operation in Photo 4(A) creates extra display space by lining the pathway between two houses with benches. If cold weather is forecast, plants can easily be covered. The manager of the greenhouse in Photo 4(B) maintains clear sight lines and streamlined displays even when the greenhouse is very full, for a pleasant shopping experience.
Another good practice is ruthless culling of poor quality product to open up space. Managing a crowded greenhouse isn't easy, but considering how and where plants are displayed can help you move them out the door looking their best.