Six Reasons Why the Future is Bright (and Green!) for the Commercial Landscaping Industry

Photo by Maria Sprow.

Photo by Maria Sprow.

It’s an election year, and there’s a lot of uncertainty in today’s marketplace. While the economy is slowly plodding along, we don’t know exactly where we’re going to be a year from now, we don’t know when the next recession will hit, we don’t know how new technologies will continue to effect the job market.

“Because of uncertainty, there are many firms in the Green Industry today that are kind of content with the status quo. They may be holding back on investment,” said economist Charlie Hall, a professor with the Department of Horticultural Sciences at Texas A&M University, during his mid-year economic outlook. “You’ve got a situation where folks are very reluctant to pull that trigger on making strategic investments in their business.”

But it’s important to take that uncertainty with a grain of salt. There’s a lot of opportunities and good news coming for horticultural industries. In fact, while times might be uncertain now, the future is bright — and green — thanks to a variety of factors coming into play.

1. Immigration Views are Changing.

Though current political rhetoric regarding immigration is divisive, polls now show that most American views on immigration are more inclusive. Even more conservative polls show that the vast majority of Americans are against mass deportation of illegal immigrants, and roughly 60 percent oppose building a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. That’s good news, because our future economy and housing market will rely heavily on immigration. In fact, by 2028, most American cities will look like today’s Houston, ethnically-speaking.

“A lot of our population growth over the next 20 years is related to our immigration policy. We need that population growth. You only have to look at Russia, the former Soviet Union, to see how that entire economy unraveled because of demographics. … They didn’t have enough young people for their infrastructure,” Hall said, adding that the same thing could happen here were we to close our borders. “The strongest growth in our economy occurs with comprehensive immigration reform.”

2. Millennials Are Growing Up.

Our country’s 77 million Baby Boomers have been retiring for years now, and are continuing to retire at the rate of about 10,000 per day. For years, this has caused a bit of a slump for our industry, as Boomers have been influencing our industry since the 1950s. As Boomers have left the workforce, we’ve leaned on Generation Xers as our main customer base — but there are 11 million fewer of them, which has decreased the size of our market.

Fortunately, there are 92 million Millennials, all of who are now finally reaching adulthood, and the oldest of who are 35 years old. Millennials are the most debt-saddled generation in history — having taken on $1.3 trillion in student loan debt — and they are buying homes and starting families later in life than their predecessors. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t buying homes, or that they even need to buy to influence the industry.

3. Millennial Values Are Green.

There’s a lot to be said about the ways in which Millennials are different from the generations before them — and many of those differences are positive for the commercial landscaping industry and green industries. They support businesses committed to social and environmental causes. They’ve shown an affinity toward both edible gardening and environmental conservation. Millennials want to live in more urban environments, which might mean fewer home sales. But they also value walkable cities and shared experiences, so it also means more parks and better public spaces.

Millennials, accustomed to the conveniences afforded to them by technology, also want to be able to work from anywhere — whether it’s from home, in a shared co-working space, in a park, or elsewhere. Businesses wanting to attract Millennials must invest in their beautifying, improving and greening their work spaces, as shown by progressive companies such as Amazon and Google. Basically, Millennials value work-life balance and have shown that they are willing to spend their money on experiences that improve their quality of life, or the quality of the world.

 4. Studies Show Quality of Life Benefits

Researchers during the last decade have produced study after study showing just how important trees, plants, green landscaping and access to nature is to our quality of life. Not only is landscaping beautiful and relaxing, but studies have shown that trees and plants in urban settings promote exercise and community-building by encouraging people to go outdoors and providing shade in summer months. Other studies have shown that walking in a more natural setting decreases more stress than walking in a setting without trees and plants.

In fact, you don’t even have to go outdoors to reap the benefits from trees and green spaces; studies have shown that just looking at nature — trees, flowers, water — for a few minutes reduces anger, anxiety, blood pressure and muscle tension. Green spaces around inner-city Chicago apartment complexes have been shown to reduce violent crime by 56 percent. Trees along streets reduce noise from traffic, speeding and road rage. In hospitals, patients who are placed in rooms with a view of trees and green spaces have shortened post-operative stays than patients without those views. In workplaces, biophillic-based landscapes can reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and improve employee satisfaction. One study showed that “10 percent of employee absences can be attributed to architecture with no connection to nature.” And for students, exposure to trees and green spaces can reduce ADHD and improve standardized testing results, among other benefits.

5. Landscaping Opportunities are Skyrocketing

When our industry first started, landscaping was largely a residential pursuit as homeowners wanted to maintain and improve their yards. But social changes and technological and scientific advances in the industry now allow us to create green spaces and infrastructures in spaces that have traditionally been hardscaped: office complexes, transportation corridors, shopping and retail complexes are all now reaping the benefits of greenspaces. Not only that, but we’re no longer limited to landscaping along the horizon. Green walls and green roofs allow for landscaping in more compact and vertical spaces, and visionary designers and architects are using those technologies and advancements to create self-sustainable, energy-producing structures that will redefine the way we live.

 6. The World Needs Us

Incorporating trees and plants into urban and commercial landscapes obviously helps improves air and water quality. Not only do trees store carbon dioxide, our primary greenhouse gas, in their stems and leaves until it is released again as oxygen, but a mature tree can also absorb up to 240 pounds of air pollution particles — dirt, dust and soot — each year.  Of course, our growing urban populations require more trees; it takes two medium-sized trees to release enough oxygen for one person.

But trees, plants and sustainable landscaping are good for solving other environment-related problems, too. A mature tree can absorb up to 100 gallons of water during a large storm, and more water can be absorbed by neighboring plants and soil, making softscapes and green infrastructure essential in urban areas that experience stormwater run-off and flooding. Sustainable landscaping and green infrastructure can also decrease energy costs, reduce soil erosion, increase biodiversity and create wildlife habitats.

Uncertainty Is Opportunity 

Commercial landscaping companies should be looking forward to the future — but the future is already here. Despite the economic uncertainty, more people are taking on mortgage debt and people are spending more today than they did prior to the recession. "People will buy health and well-being," Hall said. "People afford the things they want." 

"I tend to view uncertainty not just as inertia, but I think it's a time for opportunity," Hall said during is mid-year economic outlook, adding that 25 percent of people have paid for landscaping services already — meaning that the industry has the potential to quadruple when the other 75 percent begin making purchases.

But the industry does have some marketing work to do to show and educate people on the massive difference between what a world with landscaping looks like and what a world without it looks like. 

"We are in the quality-of-life business. We have just been the last to tell people," Hall said during a breakout session at the Texas Nursery and Landscaping Association's Nursery/Landscape Expo. "The medical field has done a stellar job at telling people how great we are. The architectural field has done a stellar job at telling people how great we are. We are the last people tell people how great we are. We are going to have to change that a little bit."

 

Happy Birthday to Our Amazing National Parks

We want to wish a happy birthday to the National Parks Service! For 100 years, it's worked to preserve our nation's most beautiful wild lands and keep people connected with the nature around us. It's hard to imagine what the world would be like today without the national parks system. Our national parks inspire us with their beauty, amaze us with their diversity and teach us with their complexity. They encourage us all to value nature and ensure that in an age of increasing urbanism, we can still witness the wonders of the natural world. 

To celebrate, we're sharing just a few of our favorite photos from our trips to national parks. We hope you enjoy them! (Just click on the picture to scroll through them all.) 

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From Farm to Farm: My 3,000 Mile Journey Across America's Nurseries

By Zac Tolbert

A successful combination of meticulus consistency across a wide variety of species in moderate to large crop sizes at Waynesboro Nurseries in Virginia. 

A successful combination of meticulus consistency across a wide variety of species in moderate to large crop sizes at Waynesboro Nurseries in Virginia. 

The list of reasons why I love my job is a really long list. I’m proud to be part of an industry that literally makes the world more beautiful. I’m proud to have founded a company that provides innovative and sustainable solutions for the entire supply chain, from Landscape Architects to Seed Suppliers. And I enjoy getting to know the business owners, estimators, purchasers, suppliers and others who use Local Plant Source to improve their business’s bottom line. I love talking shop, learning about the innovations and achievements of our clients and developing relationships that will last long into the future.

But with my background in landscape architecture, I admit that’s normally where my head is. I know the challenges the commercial landscaping supply chain places on landscape architects, and I’m constantly looking for ways to use technology to improve the plant buying process. But what about the plant selling business? If we want our supplier network to be strong and successful, we need to underestand their reality.

I needed to learn more about our suppliers — really delve into their worlds, see their operations, learn about their problems and innovations. That’s why I've been involved with the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association (TNLA) for the past 5 years, and I take every occassion afforded to me to visit farms. So when the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to embark on a 3,000-mile road trip — some might even call it a journey — from Virginia to Oklahoma to tour just a small sample (.7 percent) of the 1,800+ nurseries we do business with.

A photo taken during a visit to Waverly Farm in Maryland. Waverly Farm is known for being the Dragon Lady nursery, after their amazingly uniform hedge form Ilex 'Dragon Lady' (not shown).

My nursery tour started at Waynesboro Nurseries in Waynesboro, Virginia, then went 150 miles to Ingleside Plantation Nurseries in Colonial Beach, Virginia, then 90 miles to Washington, D.C., for the night. Day 2 started with a 30 mile drive to D.R. Snell Wholesale Nursery in Mount Airy, Maryland. After that, it was a quick skip over to Raemelton Farm and Waverly Farm, both in Adamstown, Maryland. From there, it was 230 miles northwest to Lake Forest Gardens in Fombell, Pennsylvania. I spent a night in Pittsburgh, then drove 100 more miles on to Hermon Losely & Son, Inc., in Perry, Ohio and 60 miles to Rusty Oak Nursery in Valley City, Ohio, enroute to Columbus. 

And those were just the farms I visited before taking a four-day break to attend AmericanHort’s Cultivate ’16 in Columbus. Back on the nursery tour, I visited Evin’s Mill Nursery, Odom Nursery Company and Riverbend Nurseries in Tennessee before taking a rest in Nashville. The final day featured a long drive to Oklahoma to visit Deep Fork Tree Farm, Cedar Valley Nurseries and Whitetail Tree Farm before the final leg of the drive back to Austin.

The fields at Raemelton Farm, the first USDA-certified organic ornamental tree farm in the country.

The fields at Raemelton Farm, the first USDA-certified organic ornamental tree farm in the country.

The results of my whirlwind trip: 3,000 miles, about 60 hours of video to share with our staff, stronger relationships with the growers I met and valuable insights into the growing process and how it relates to the plant sales cycle.

I couldn’t give just a single highlight if I tried, but I will say there was a lot of pride visible at the farms I visited and each farm was impressive in its own right.

D.N. Snell was absolutely stunning with its rolling green hills and freshly mowed grass and clean isles; they take great pride in their quality and in the liner material they purchase.

Raemelton’s digging machine is state-of-the-art; instead of using a traditional triangular tree spade to dig up trees, they use one that works in a circular motion to better collect the tree’s root system. Raemelton is also the first USDA-certified organic ornamental tree farm in the country. The farm has a research partnership with the University of Maryland, so students conduct studies on the farm and it benefits from all the information collected, a win-win for education and business.

And Herman Losely’s tree crops are huge, thanks in part to the process they use to keep trees growing through the cold northern winters.

Attention to quality is paramount at D.R. Snell, where every tree has deer protection and high-end liners and daily inspections ensure that all trees have consistent quality. 

Attention to quality is paramount at D.R. Snell, where every tree has deer protection and high-end liners and daily inspections ensure that all trees have consistent quality. 

Checking out the equipment at Raemelton Farm. This U-shaped tree spade blade vibrates and digs the root ball like scooping ice cream, leaving more of the critical root zone intact than traditional triangular tree spades can.

Checking out the equipment at Raemelton Farm. This U-shaped tree spade blade vibrates and digs the root ball like scooping ice cream, leaving more of the critical root zone intact than traditional triangular tree spades can.

While certainly incomplete, the farms I visited represent a decent cross section of the growing industry — large and small growing capacities, growers of starter material and finish growers. And all the growers had common challenges and concerns.

As a buyer, I asked these growers an important question: What can we do to make your job easier and our transactions more successful?  

The number one reply was that they needed more advanced warning from buyers if projects are going to be delayed. After all, they aren’t selling bricks or stones or something that can sit on a shelf. They are dealing with living things that grow and need care. A project delay that causes a plant to be left sitting on the farm for an extra three months is money lost to the farmer, especially if that plant could have been sold to somebody else and replaced with a plant from a later crop.

Cedar Valley Nurseries smartly adjusted their spacing to put some plants closer together after studying their ROI and growing strategies.

Cedar Valley Nurseries smartly adjusted their spacing to put some plants closer together after studying their ROI and growing strategies.

In fact, I wound up talking about communication a lot during the trip. Communication between plant buyers and sellers is absolutely critical, and there are many ways both parties could benefit from sharing more information. Buyers need to be more open about project timelines and delays and be open to working with growers about coming up with a Plan B, just in case. When plants are bought under contract and the project gets delayed, let the grower know immediately and see if they want to sell those plants to someone else if they have other plants coming down the pipeline that will fit your needs according to the new project schedule. And growers need to do a better job of sharing their crop schedules and crop quantities so that buyers understand when plants will be available.

It was a beautiful day at the immaculately maintained Deep Fork Tree Farm in Acadia, Oklahoma, just off Route 66.

It was a beautiful day at the immaculately maintained Deep Fork Tree Farm in Acadia, Oklahoma, just off Route 66.

Local Plant Source is dedicated to making communication between growers and sellers as easy as possible. We do this through tech-based tools that allow growers and sellers to easily keep track of project timelines, communications and other logistical information. But the tools can’t do it alone. As an industry, we must all change our behaviors to work more seamlessly together. A great first step is to consider the wholesale plant and commercial landscaping industry from other perspectives.

I had an amazing time on this 3,000-mile road trip. I know most plant buyers can’t take the time to repeat my journey, but I’d recommend any plant buyer take a visit to your closest tree farm or grower. Walk around. Ask questions. Let them teach you something about what they do so that the next time you buy plants, you’ll know just a little bit more than the time before.