Super Plants Boost Louisiana Economy

Linda Benedict, Gill, Daniel J., Bracy, Regina P., Owings, Allen D.  |  9/27/2011 9:40:52 PM

Regina Bracy, Allen D. Owings and Dan Gill

The Louisiana Super Plant program debuted in the fall of 2010 as an ornamental plant marketing program for Louisiana. Its purpose is to benefit all sectors of the nursery and landscape industry in Louisiana, which employs more than 56,000 individuals and contributes more than $2.2 billion annually to the Louisiana economy. The industry includes wholesale producers, retailers (independent garden centers and farm supply stores), landscape contractors, landscape architects (designers), horticulture maintenance firms, arborists and golf courses.

Traditionally, marketing programs have been regional and national in scope and developed and directed by private companies. Plant introductions, such as Encore azaleas and Endless Summer hydrangea, which have been supported by marketing campaigns, have had a better rate of adoption than similar plants that lack this promotional effort. Programs such as Proven Winners by EuroAmerican Propagators have been effective in increasing sales of plants developed and marketed by the respective companies. Participation, however, requires enrollment in the program and payment of royalty fees – limiting participation to larger growers and retail outlets.

Another drawback with these company- directed programs is the large geographic area their programs encompass. Plants that proliferate in some areas may not do well in Louisiana. Louisiana’s heat and humidity are tough on plants, and most plants recommended for northern and western locations will not perform well here. Evaluations and recommendations need to be specific to the locale in which the plants will be grown and marketed.

Marketing programs that are statebased – such as Mississippi Medallion, Texas Super Star and Georgia Gold Medal Winners – have been successful in identifying and marketing outstanding plants in their respective states. Many of these programs use university research to provide accurate plant selection and are effective in increasing brand recognition and sales.

The goal of the Louisiana Super Plants program is to develop a marketing program specific to Louisiana that benefits the nursery and landscape industry regardless of the size of the operation. Funding for this project was provided through the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry with U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant Program funds.

The Louisiana Super Plants program has three parts. The first identifies outstanding plants.

The second makes sure the plants are available at retail nurseries and garden centers. The third gets the word out about these great plants to Louisiana gardeners.

Each Super Plant must have at least two years of rigorous evaluations and have a proven track record under north and south Louisiana growing conditions. Louisiana Super Plants must prove hardy across the state. If they survive the cold in south Louisiana, they must also survive in north Louisiana. Louisiana Super Plants must be easily produced and available for all nursery and landscape industry wholesalers and retailers to market and sell.

Louisiana Super Plants are selected two years in advance of release. The Louisiana Super Plants Selection Committee, composed of LSU AgCenter personnel, selects plants based upon observations made in replicated plots and demonstration trials across the state.

The Louisiana Super Plant Advisory Committee, which is composed of producers, retailers and landscapers from across the state, meets with the Plant Selection Committee for further scrutiny of the plant’s landscape ability and marketability. This selection process gives each Super Plant the combined rating of university-tested and industry-approved.

To ensure that Louisiana Super Plants selections are available at retail nurseries and garden centers, the Louisiana Super Plants Selection Committee works closely with Louisiana wholesale growers to ensure they produce plenty of the selected plants. At the same time, retail sellers are kept informed of the selections and are encouraged to carry them in their garden centers and nurseries. In addition, logos and signs containing plant photos and growing information are provided to nurseries and garden centers to help customers find and choose Louisiana Super Plants.

Gardens are an important part of the evaluation program and visual and tactile billboards for promoting Louisiana Super Plants. The gardens at the Hammond Research Station are the primary location for plant evaluations of future Louisiana Super Plants. The gardens also provide a visual display of the complete collection of Louisiana Super Plants and are used as a tool for educating homeowners, students and professionals.

Super Plants are displayed around the grounds at LaHouse in Baton Rouge. This model home built by the LSU AgCenter is a teaching facility that includes an environmental landscape and provides another highly visible, heavily trafficked showcase for Louisiana Super Plants. The AgCenter has a network of enthusiastic gardeners in its Louisiana Master Gardeners Association. Several Master Gardener associations have established Louisiana Super Plants gardens in their parishes.

Commercial ornamental horticulture is the largest specialty crop industry in Louisiana. There are currently 152 nursery and landscape industry businesses partici pating in the Louisiana Super Plants promotion. There is great potential to increase this number.

Louisiana Super Plants was developed to identify and market outstanding plants and ultimately increase sales, and the program has been successful. After the initial launch in fall 2010, one wholesale nursery reported sales of Super Plant Amazon dianthus were 145 percent greater than the previous year. An independent retail garden center in the Baton Rouge metropolitan area reported a 1,920 percent increase in Super Plant Camelot foxglove sales. Super Plant Shishi Gashira camellia sales at a wholesale grower were up 45 percent.

Not only did Louisiana Super Plants increase consumer awareness of plants that do well in Louisiana, but it also increased consumer interest, resulting in  add-on in addition to sales of the promoted plants. Increased traffic through the garden centers because of customers looking for Louisiana Super Plants was also reported.

The benefits of the Louisiana Super Plants marketing program are both short- and long-term. In other statebased programs, plant sales were most significant during the initial year of selection, but wholesale and retail operators reported continued interest and sales for five years after a plant had been identified in the marketing program.

Although the Louisiana Super Plants promotion has been well-received by consumers and industry professionals alike, it is still in its infancy. Logo recognition takes time to become ingrained in the consumers’ consciousness but is critical to the long-term success of the Louisiana Super Plants program. The Louisiana Super Plants Selection and Advisory Committees will continue to evaluate and select plants for Super Plant status.

Regina Bracy, Professor and Resident Coordinator, and Allen D. Owings, Professor, Hammond Research Station, Hammond, La.; and Dan Gill, Professor, School of Plant, Environmental & Soil Sciences, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.

(This article was published in the summer 2011 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)

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