Younger gardeners, succulents, eco-friendliness, and “plant parenting” are shaping up as some of this year’s hot trends in gardening.
Here’s what gardening trend-watchers say they see in their 2020 compost-stained crystal balls:
More gardening … and younger gardeners
Interest in gardening continues to grow, and it’s no longer just the over-50 crowd.
Not only did lawn and garden spending set an overall record of more than $52 billion in 2018, according to the National Gardening Association’s 2019 National Gardening Survey, but participation by the Millennial generation (ages 18-34) continues to grow at a higher rate than other age groups – now equaling Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and beyond.
Millennials accounted for a quarter of 2018’s record gardening spending, which NGA says comes despite these younger gardeners having lower household incomes than older age groups and being more likely to live in an apartment or condo.
More than a third of Millennials also said they planned to spend more on gardening last year, which was higher than the overall average of 29 percent who said they planned to spend more.
Across all generations, gardening sales grew 10 percent in 2018, according to Euromonitor International, the world’s leading independent provider of strategic market research.
NGA says that about three-quarters of all U.S. households engage in some form of gardening or lawn care.
This is a new term catching on that refers to plant care – especially Millennials’ flourishing interest in houseplants. At least two new books include “plant parenting” in their titles, and the term is popping up throughout social media.
“The houseplant craze continues,” says Andrew Bunting, vice president of horticulture at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. “Just look at the houseplant influencers on Instagram. I have a colleague (Summer Rayne Oakes) who just wrote a houseplant book, and she has 127,000 followers. The houseplant trend and phenomenon is engaging Millennials, in particular, with plants and gardening.”
The theory is that because Millennials are delaying child-rearing and often living in rented apartments and condos, they see houseplants as a convenient, space-saving way to grow plants as well as a way to connect to nature and nurture.
Todd Kephart, a buyer at Stauffers of Kissel Hill garden centers, said SKH’s houseplant sales have been trending upward for years and increased another 14 percent last year.
“I don’t expect this upward trend to end anytime soon,” he says.
Deb Shearer, a co-owner at Ashcombe Farm and Greenhouses in Monroe Twp., said the houseplant boom is the No. 1 trend she’s also been seeing.
“Old houseplants are new again, and everyone is searching for the newest and most unusual,” she says.
An offshoot of this trend, says Katie Dubow, author of the Chester County-based Garden Media Group’s 2020 Garden Trends Report, is that people are increasingly interested in ways to decorate with houseplants.
Even more succulents
The other class of plants that’s been booming lately is succulents, those fleshy-leafed plants that include cactus, sedum, echeveria, hens and chicks, and aloe.
“Succulents are running in tandem with the houseplant phenomenon,” says PHS’s Bunting. “There’s equally robust interest. This is a global trend where both tender and hardy succulents are being used in gardens.”
Kephart says SKH’s cactus and succulent sales shot up 25 percent last year and also are showing no sign of slacking.
Fueling the interest is the wide variety of shapes, colors, and forms of succulents as well as their ease of growth (low water needs, compact growth, few troubles with bugs, insects, and animals, etc.)
Kinder, gentler gardening
“Especially the Millennial generation, but really the industry as a whole, has the desire to be more ecologically responsible,” says Robert Kadas, general manager at Highland Gardens in Lower Allen Twp.
For one thing, he says, that’s translating into less chemical use.
For another, it means gardeners are increasingly looking for tough, naturally bug- and disease-resistant plants so they can be successful without spraying or coddling.
He points to new programs such as the American Rose Trials for Sustainability, which tests roses for performance in a no-spray setting.
“Organic is not enough,” adds Garden Media Group’s Dubow.
She says gardeners are keenly interested in eco-friendly ways to garden as well as bigger-picture sustainable practices, which led to the new Regenerative Organic Certification launched last June.
That certification adds such factors as soil health, fair trade, and animal welfare to the non-chemical requirements of being certified organic.
Dubow says Nielsen research finds that half of U.S. consumers say they would buy a brand if they knew production of it was done with concern for the environment.
Pollinators and native plants
Here’s another trend that’s been strong the last few years and one that trend-watchers say is showing no signs of abating.
Related to the above eco-friendly concerns, gardeners are planting with an eye on attracting pollinators and helping native wildlife in addition to care and ornamental considerations.
One native plant family that’s especially trendy, says Ashcombe nursery manager Brandon Kuykendall, is milkweeds.
“I’ve noticed a rather substantial increase in that species being sold as people want to support monarch butterflies,” he says. “Host plants for swallowtails, such as spicebush, pawpaws, and Dutchman’s pipe, have been on many customers’ minds as well.”
Jody Davey, an indoor horticulture and programs specialist at Hershey Gardens, says she’s seeing more people interested in creating secluded spots for relaxing and enjoying their yard’s gardens.
“Part of the reward of nurturing a garden is spending leisure time in the beautiful outdoor space you’ve created,” she said. “A garden nook tucked away within that space is the perfect place to pause, relax, and appreciate.”
Davey says nooks are typically in the shade (although they don’t have to be) and have comfortable seating as well as accessories that might include a water feature, a fountain, or wind chimes.
“The concept of garden nooks is certainly not a new one,” she said, “but the idea is experiencing some renewed popularity as we all continue our quest for that ever-elusive work-life balance.”
Although this one’s bigger in the Southwest than here, Pennsylvania gardeners also are more interested in reducing water use in the garden, says PHS’s Bunting.
“Gravel gardening, water-wise gardening, and xeric gardening are all gaining in popularity as we all become more and more aware of global climate change and areas where access to water is a real issue,” he says. “Public gardens like ones at Chanticleer, Scott Arboretum, and even at the PHS headquarters are using these types of gardens to demonstrate how to have beautiful gardens that require very little water or irrigation.”
After a 2018 hurricane-related dip in supply from Florida growers, gardeners are scooping up tropical plants such as hibiscus, potted palms, ornamental bananas, elephant ears, and more.
Kephart says both the supply and quality of flowering tropicals have stabilized, and gardeners were very much interested in that category in 2019 – especially the flowering tropical vine mandevilla.
Besides growing tropicals as summer pot centerpieces, more gardeners are experimenting with planting tropicals such as aluminum plant, stromanthe, cannas, crotons, and caladiums in the landscape.
Another sizable segment of gardeners is turning attention to a “deeper look at herbalism,” says Erica Shaffer, retail horticulturist at Black Landscape Center in Mechanicsburg.
She says that includes growing herbs for tea (lavender, chamomile, basil, and “yes, even chemical-free roses to harvest the petals”) as well as DIY herbal syrups and elixirs.
“There’s a returned interest in plant medicine,” Shaffer says.
Cannabis on the horizon?
As tolerance for marijuana use grows, a wave of would-be cannabis gardeners apparently is waiting in the wings.
Besides a boatload of books already out on the subject of how to grow cannabis plants, the 2019 National Gardening Survey says that nearly half of the Millennials it surveyed (ages 18 to 34) said they would “definitely or probably grow a type of cannabis if it were legal to do so.”
A big chunk of those say that would be their first foray into gardening.
“That’s millions of individuals who do not currently do any gardening who would dip a toe into the water, possibly leading to a long-term relationship with the lawn and garden industry,” said industry analyst Ian Baldwin, who works with NGA on interpreting survey data.