Hot hues

Industry experts suggest bright, bold colors and white will be popular choices for gardeners this year.

While the Pantone colors of the year offer a soothing take on pastels, consumers are favoring bright and punchy colors, or steering clear of color altogether, when it comes to picking flowering annuals and perennials for their gardens this season.

After the not-so-successful case they made for last year’s mauve-ish color of the year Marsala, Pantone made up for it by doubling up this year. The choices of both Serenity and Rose Quartz are a home run if you’re in the business of selling hydrangeas, which were part of the inspiration for the hues for 2016. Yet, baby pink and powder blue annual combos may not be the first to fly out of the garden center this growing season.

Keep it punchy

Gardeners seem to be eagerly reaching for bright colors in 2016, with orange being particularly popular both in floral and foliage form. Customers want their gardens to stand out from their neighbors and vibrate with intense color.

“Everybody wants the bright and vibrant colors this year. The 70-mile-an-hour kind of color,” says Ben Fisher of Eason Horticultural Resources. “The electric orange, bright red and neon violet colors are big hits.”

When I polled the plant geeks in the Emergents in Horticulture Facebook group, the consensus of respondents was that “bright” colors were their top choice for 2016 plantings. Not just bright, but bright to the extreme. “Gaudy and over-the-top? Yes, please,” says horticulturist Lindsey Kerr. Bright blue and orange were the No. 1 color picks. Interestingly, several respondents noted that they were again favoring “black” foliage and flowering plants as extreme color companions for other in-your-face colors such as hot pink.

Such gaudy combos can be found in the new Gomphrena Budacious series, which sports a mix of neon purple, hot red and bright orange. Begonia ‘Little Lava’ packs a powerful orange punch when planted en masse, or planted with other hot or intense colors.

Strawflower Xerochrysum bracteatum Orange
Bicolor dahlia
Celosia argentea var. spicata ‘Intenz’
Tomato ‘Black Cherry’
Shasta Daisy Leucanthemum x superbum
Pepper Capsicum annuum Chile Pequin
Blend colors

More than ever, customers are open to new colors and unusual color combinations. While not so popular over the past few years, bicolored flowers are currently garnering more demand across Europe and the U.S. Fisher agrees and notes that bicolor flowers are catching his retail customers’ eyes, with Pericallis and Osteospermum as standouts. ‘Starlias’ Dahlias and the new ‘Beedance Painted Red’ bidens are also head turners.

Overall, Fisher hopes the interest in bright, vibrant colors and bicolor blooms is a testament to the direction and upbeat mood of the economy.

Keep it clean

On the flip side, many customers are going for extremely simple looks. As life seems to get busier and more complicated, and landscape designs get more sophisticated, many homeowners are turning to a clean and neutral palette in the landscape. “You can’t go wrong with white flowers,” says landscape designer Heather Fox Murrey, marketing director at Matthew Murrey Design in Dallas, Texas. If color confounds a customer, then keeping it simple with white blooms can be an easy solution to reduce shopping stress and the color coordination conundrum.

Kate Karam, spokesperson for Monrovia, backs up that assertion. “We actually identified white as the leading color trend for 2016 in our Trends Report,” Karam says. Based on data Monrovia tracked from retailer orders, they noticed an uptick in orders for plants with white flowers last year, including white groundcover roses, white hydrangea, white peonies, white astilbe and white anemonies. Monrovia reports they are seeing this trend continue through 2016. By the way, the Perennial Plant Association Perennial Plant of the Year is Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert,’ which sports beautiful clear white blooms that are right on trend for 2016.

Karam feels the boost in sales of white blooms is attributed to a few specific factors; chief among them is that white works well in smaller gardens, where every plant has to perform at its best and it can be tougher to coordinate a big mix of colors. “Whether you pair it with warm or cool hues; it works with just about anything else in the garden,” she says. “It also looks really good at night, a time that, for many homeowners, is when they’re most likely to be out enjoying the landscape.” White flowers can also create a feel of calm in a sea of urban chaos.

However, sometimes color choice is dependent on the “particular type of plant,” says Sandi Holmes-Schwedler, plant buyer at North Haven Gardens in Dallas. While Schwedler says white is currently a dominant trending color among her customers, they are sticking with deep red flowered geraniums, passing over the whites or new neon pinks and peaches. Some trends can’t trump tradition.

Pink peak

There’s no arguing that pink and blush blooms totally dominated in the wedding and cut flower industry last year. And while it seemed like pink (blush) was on its way out this year, Pantone does seem to have nudged the pink peak on a bit with its Rose Quartz promotion. Take one pass through Pinterest, and you’ll see that blush pink may be sticking around as a cut flower trend, but even it looks to have been infiltrated with brighter orange tones of peach, apricot, coral and rust. Wedding and event flowers can be a strong influence on home gardeners’ bedding color choices, so it’s a good idea to stay tuned to cut flower preferences.


Whatever the customer’s color of choice, monochromatic landscapes are also trending. Your customers may seek out larger volumes of a single color of annual or perennial to meet their needs.

Forecasting and committing to large enough quantities of one variety color can be tricky for garden centers. But, if you pay attention to your overall trends and track your own customer data, you can plan for better bulk buys of individual colors. You may want to offer special pre-order incentives for customers who need large quantities of a single color of annual or perennial.

Fiery foliage

It’s not just flowers that are making a bold color statement. Customers are also gravitating toward annuals and perennials that offer up zesty foliage contrast. Fisher says Hamelia ‘Lime Sizzler,’ with its chartreuse variegated foliage, is one such annual catching visitors’ fancy in trials. The new Campfire Coleus offers up rich orange colored foliage that vibrates with intensity; perfect for pairing with bright blue borage.

Fantastic fruits

Be sure not to discount edibles as excellent annual color options. Edible ornamentals, or “ornamedibles” if you like, can bring a wonderful pop of dual-purpose color to the garden. Peppers, colorful okra, dwarf tomatoes, eggplant and salad greens make the perfect addition to the garden colorscape. Ornamental edible peppers, with their hot pops of orange, red and purple all mixed together, are right on trend for today’s punchy garden.

Color preferences, as always, are subjective. So, not every customer will gravitate toward what happens to be popular at the moment. But, by coordinating your offerings with colors that reflect the mood of the marketplace, you can create new marketing opportunities and fill shopping carts.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, digital content marketing, branding design, advertising and social media support for green industry companies.

May 2016
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