Over the next quarter, garden centers will receive 2022 seed and plant introductions for the home garden. Plants have a chain of distribution spanning years of research and development, growing, and trialing in different geographies before graduating as candidates to travel to local garden centers.
What does a new plant’s supply chain route look like? All new plant introductions, whether seed or vegetative, start with plant breeders. Bailey Innovations is the breeder of Endless Summer Hydrangeas. Wave petunias were bred by Ball Horticultural’s affiliate Pan American Seed. Plant breeding takes seven to 10 years of human and financial resources. Breeders ask, “Is there a need?” or “Is there a strong business case to invest in a crop?” Breeders who want to improve existing flowers or edible crops may focus on one particular characteristic like darker flower color, taste, disease resistance, better performance in a warming climate, multi-seasonal bloom cycle, compactness for containers, trailing habit, shade tolerance, or seasonal vigor. Breeders must protect their intellectual property through licensing, patents, and trademarks.
According to Diane Blazek, executive director of the National Gardening Bureau, there are 10 to 15 active plant breeders in North America. Michael Dirr has introduced over 100 plants to the horticulture world. Early 20th century plant breeder Luther Burbank introduced over 800 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers.
The performance of each new plant is tested in trial gardens over and over again across the continent in rural, suburban, and urban settings. Candidates are trialed in field and lab settings and judged by horticulturists. The University of Georgia Trial Gardens are famous for the annual and perennial trials started by Allan Armitage ugatrial.hort.uga.edu.
In 2021, Kristen Nobel, vegetable product manager at Harris Seeds in Rochester, NY, trialed 650 vegetable candidates and only selected 55 for introduction. Noble arranges trials with growers and home gardeners around the country.
When breeders have a viable introduction, they engage a broker, aka dealer, to sell their product to professional growers. In North America there are 8,000 growers who sell to retailers including 15,000 garden centers, hundred of online retailers, and thousands of big box stores. Along I-77 just north of Charlotte sits Metrolina Greenhouse, the largest wholesale bedding plant grower in the area selling to big box stores within a 500-mile radius. The broker, Griffin Greenhouse in Massachusetts with 16 satellite sites across the nation, sells green goods to growers and brick and mortar garden centers.
Growers ask brokers, “What’s new this year?” Since growers have only so much space, they prioritize their selections by asking, “Does the plant solve the grower’s problems?” “Will this introduction solve the home owner’s problems?”
“Can I sell this to retailers?”
Hopefully, new introductions arrive at retailers in the nick of time for landscapers and home gardeners to welcome them into the local landscape. The marketplace price for a plant includes multiple years of labor and numerous employees through the supply chain—breeder, broker, grower, and retailer. Home gardeners are beneficiaries of the supply chain network.
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