The industry thrives on new plant introductions. Hundreds of new varieties are launched each year, with exciting selections in trees and shrubs, perennials and even edibles. And consumers tell us they’re eager for the next new plant.

Ironically, however, the presentation of so many new plants – as exciting as they may be – can be intimidating to a would-be gardener. Even to a seasoned pro, the display of dozens of cultivars can be confounding. There are so many plant selections that it can be overwhelming: Will they make the right choice? Will the plant they choose do well – or even survive? Their fear of failure can result in inaction – no sale, no garden, no gardener.

Beyond branding

Branding has helped, but a group of growers recognized the need to go beyond branding. What’s needed, they say, is a certification program, a trustmark that designates certain plants as tried and true. Picture a Good Housekeeping Seal of approval, but for trees, shrubs and perennial plants.

The group, collectively known as Syn-RG™, introduced the new program at this year’s MANTS in Baltimore in January. Growers include Prides Corner Farms (Lebanon, Connecticut), Overdevest Nurseries (Bridgeton, New Jersey), Saunders Brothers (Piney River, Virginia), Sheridan Nurseries (Georgetown, Ontario) and Willoway Nurseries (Avon, Ohio). For a couple of years now, they’ve been researching and studying the market with the intent to develop a certification program that would help growers, independent garden centers and customers alike.

The approach, according to Syn-RG™, is not to decrease the number of choices on the market, nor to increase the number of brands. The answer, they say, is better choices.

If breeders allowed growers earlier access to new introductions, giving them the opportunity to thoroughly trial the plants, top-performing varieties could be selected. Through a collaborative effort of growers, retailers and plant and breeders and introducers, the best of the best – the most trusted – plants could emerge.

Then, rather than becoming part of a new brand, the plants are certified.

Courtesy of Syn-RG™

Trusting the trustmark

Customers love brands, it’s true. But they trust the trustmark. Appliances and tools that are designated as UL Listed have been tested and certified safe by Underwriters Laboratories, a sure sign that the product can be trusted. Products stamped with the Good Housekeeping Seal are considered quality purchases. Both of these programs require extensive research before the trustmark can be granted, and that’s the goal of the Syn-RG™ group. Plants must prove their performance before they earn the mark. Again, it’s not a matter of fewer plants or brands, but a better choice. For the consumer, then, the selection process becomes easier, and the fear of failure abated.

Read more: Marketing tips for growers

Handpicked for You™

The new certification is known as Handpicked for You™. According to Syn-RG™, it’s “a consumer-oriented certification program that will provide added assurance of success with new pant introductions.” Further, the Handpicked for You™ name:

  • reinforces independent garden centers as trusted plant experts
  • resonates with highly influential “local” purchasing theme
  • overcomes consumer apprehension with a personal message
  • is based on IGC consumer research

Once a plant passes muster and qualifies for the trustmark program, a Handpicked for You™ tag can be affixed to the container. The tag and the designation do not replace a brand tag; indeed, if a branded plant qualifies, the Handpicked for You™ tag will accompany the brand designation. The targeted launch date is 2017.

What’s in the pipeline?

Currently, there are several plants being evaluated for the program, including a line of blight-resistant boxwood selections from Saunders Brothers Nursery. The group has also signed an agreement to be the exclusive marketing entity for a collection of Berberis developed by Mark Brand, Professor of Horticulture at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. The collection is said to be virtually sterile, providing an alternative to the invasive varieties widely prohibited in many states. (Grower trialing begins this year, and qualification for Handpicked for You™ certification will be evaluated at the end of 2017; it’s anticipated that retail sales may begin in 2018.)

A series of reblooming daylilies from Europe currently is being tested and may be certified as soon as the end of this year.

It’s all very new, although the diligent and exhaustive, behind-the-scenes work has been going on for a few years now. But this novel approach to plant marketing, and to cooperative efforts between breeders, growers and the IGCs, is based on an age-old model that’s been tested in other industries – and has proved successful for all parties. It could be the start of a new era in plant marketing.

Read more: New plants for 2016

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