Linda F. Benedict, Gill, Daniel J., Bracy, Regina P., Owings, Allen D.
Regina P. Bracy, Allen D. Owings and Dan Gill
The Louisiana Super Plants program was started in 2009 to identify and promote exceptional plants that perform well in Louisiana. Louisiana’s summer heat and humidity are tough on plants, and most plants recommended for other parts of the United States will not always perform well here.
The LSU AgCenter and Louisiana’s nursery and landscape industry, through the Louisiana Nursery and Landscape Association, identified the need for a state-based program that uses university research to identify and promote exceptional plants for Louisiana landscapes. 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 promotes the 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. 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 Plants advisory committee, which is composed of nursery and landscape industry personnel 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 Plant selections are available at retail nurseries and garden centers, the Louisiana Super Plants selection committee works closely with Louisiana wholesale growers so 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, display signs containing plant photos and growing information are provided to nurseries and garden centers to help customers find and choose Louisiana Super Plants.
The first Louisiana Super Plants were promoted in the fall of 2010. To date, 22 plants have been identified as Louisiana Super Plants, and more than 200 retail and grower operations have signed up to participate in the program. Surveys of participants were conducted to determine the impact the Louisiana Super Plants program had on sales. In the first season (fall 2010) of Louisiana Super Plants, one wholesale grower reported a 145 percent increase in sales of Amazon dianthus over the previous year. A retail garden center had a 1,920 percent increase in Camelot foxglove sales. Sales of the woody ornamental Shishi Gashira camellia were up by 45 percent at one wholesale grower.
A larger survey was conducted during the summer of 2012 after four marketing seasons. Retail and wholesale businesses participating in the Louisiana Super Plants program were contacted by email, and 15 percent responded. Of the participants who responded, 40 percent described their business as retail, 40 percent as wholesale, none as landscape design, and 20 percent as landscape installation and maintenance. Eighty percent of the respondents said the program had a positive effect on their business. Fifty percent of the respondents said sales or use of Super Plants in their business increased from 21 percent to 40 percent after the promotion began; the other 50 percent indicated increased sales of 20 percent or less.
The survey indicated that not only did the program increase sales of Louisiana Super Plants, but overall sales at a business also increased. More than 60 percent said the Super Plants program increased traffic flow or interest in their business. All the respondents indicated that the program increased overall sales in their business from 10 percent to 60 percent. Eighty-five percent of the respondents said the Louisiana Super Plants program had been beneficial to the nursery and landscape industry.
When asked to name the Super Plant that had the greatest impact on sales, one respondent wrote “no one plant, but an increase in general plant knowledge and interest.”
The Louisiana Super Plants program is proving to be a marketing plan that works.
Regina P. Bracy is a professor and the research coordinator at the Hammond Research Station. Allen D. Owings is a professor at the station. Dan Gill is an extension horticulturist.
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(This article was published in the winter 2013 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)