Big opportunities with tiny plants

Miniature gardening is having a growth spurt in 2021.

As the miniature gardening trend continues to climb, offer little plant options for space-challenged customers.

When it comes to gardening trends, fairy gardening sure has had a good run. Not to say that the hobby has completely fizzled out, but it is not the big craze it once was. But do not fret; if this was once a reliably profitable category for you, there’s no need to delete the category just yet. Instead, it might just be time to rebrand it and repurpose the plants and materials for new projects. Because tiny gardening, both indoors and out, is having a growth spurt in 2021.

Times are tight

Space, time and resources are always primary concerns for new and experienced gardeners. Not everyone — especially all the new indoor houseplant enthusiasts — has the space for big houseplants or big outdoor gardens. New plant parents, who hungrily acquired more large foliage plants in 2020 than their apartments or schedules could bear, are even starting to take “plant pauses” to reduce their plant care workload.

With growing interest in food gardening — in tight urban garden spaces, patio containers and indoors — aspiring vegetable gardeners run into struggles with standard herbs, veggies and fruits. Even trying to grow one standard-sized determinate tomato indoors can prove space-prohibitive. Forget about the indeterminate tomato types.

With so many new enthusiasts adopting both indoor plants and outdoor gardening as a hobby in 2020, let’s make it as easy as possible for them to stick with it. No matter their available space or time, or lack thereof. The answer to maximizing plant output and enjoyment when space is at a minimum? Tiny plants — both ornamental and edible.

Tiny is big

As soon as they started hitting the market a few years back, I began growing micro-tomatoes and other dwarf vegetable varieties; mostly indoors with grow lighting. You can still get a lot of harvest off mini-veggies and fruits, even though they do not take up much space. This is particularly handy if you are growing indoors on lighted grow shelves or grow tents. If customers are trying to use some of the smaller self-contained LED growing units, they will soon find that miniature varieties will not only grow better small footprints, but do not often take as much light volume to produce fruit, which I have personally found to be true when growing tiny tomatoes such as ‘Micro-Tom.’

Tiny food

I was excited to see a new book coming out in March 2021: “Micro Food Gardening: Project Plans and Plants for Growing Fruits and Veggies in Tiny Spaces” by Jen McGuinness. From miniature herbs and salad greens to tiny strawberry plants, baby beets and mini cabbages, McGuinness shows how micro gardening offers a surprisingly diverse and delicious array of edible opportunities.

Tiny houseplants

I admittedly have a big crush on all things tiny. So I would be remiss if I did not tell you about my new March 2021 book release, “Tiny Plants: Discover the joys of growing and collecting itty bitty houseplants,” which is geared towards the indoor plant parent. It is also going to hit a nerve with anyone interested in terrariums, vivariums or building mini water gardens or tiny indoor plantscapes.

When it comes to gardening under glass, many of the common plants sold at garden centers for terrarium culture simply get too big, or do not really sustain in consistently wet or high-humidity conditions. Do not get me started on all the arid climate succulents that get pitched as great terrarium specimens. That said, there are genetically tiny species of aroids, other popular indoor plant groups, that are well suited to permanently small gardens under glass.

You might not be selling as many itty-bitty houseplants for fairy gardens anymore, but you could be selling more of them as specialty collector specimens or ingredients for stylish mini bios-spheres or truly tiny terrariums. Same goes for some of the containers or decorative items you marketed for fairy gardens.

Big returns

If you are worried about small sales and small margins on small plants, know that perception of value for these less common plant varieties is high. Just because a plant is itty bitty, does not mean it comes with a tiny price tag. I can assure you, all the tiny plants in my collection cost just as much, if not more, than most of my standard houseplants. Not to mention, tiny handmade pottery is also having a high-priced heyday. Similarly, I never expect to pay less for seeds or transplants of mini-vegetable or fruit varieties. Also, shipping tiny plants is much easier; this category of plants and products may open online sales and direct shipping opportunities for your garden center.

Size, and value, are after all in the eye of the beholder.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies.

February 2021
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