BRED BY BALL FLORAPLANT
How long has it been on the market?
New for 2020
Grows to height/width:
8-10 inches high/20-26 inches wide
Hanging baskets; 4- to 5-inch pots, quarts; 6-inch pots, gallons; 10- to 12-inch tubs and baskets
Partial sun, Sun
Consumer care requirements:
Space 14 to 20 inches apart. Thrives in soil pH levels of 5.4-5.8.
This petunia features huge double blooms that are great for hanging baskets.
This new introduction features a novelty color of deep crimson to black with a lemon border. Exceptional branching with profuse, huge double blooms. Slightly more vigorous than the Double Wave Double Petunia Series.
Four new sweet basil varieties resistant to downy mildew disease, which destroys leaves, are now being sold to home gardeners and commercial farmers across the U.S. after years of breeding and selection at Rutgers University.
Two of the four varieties also show high resistance to Fusarium wilt, another soil-borne disease.
The four new downy mildew-resistant (DMR) sweet basils are Rutgers Devotion DMR, Rutgers Obsession DMR, Rutgers Passion DMR and Rutgers Thunderstruck DMR. These varieties of sweet basil became available to commercial growers last spring and are now available to home gardeners.
James E. Simon, distinguished professor of plant biology, Robert Pyne, former doctoral student, and Andy Wyenandt, extension specialist in vegetable pathology, led the plant breeding team that developed the new basils. The team included collaborators in Florida and on Long Island. Here, Simon, who has spent decades collecting and breeding basils from around the world, discusses the four new Rutgers varieties.
What are the advantages of growing the new Rutgers varieties of sweet basil?
After a decade of intense breeding work, these new Rutgers varieties are highly resistant to downy mildew. You might still find some disease spores on the bottom sides of leaves and yellow leaf discoloration on the upper side, but home gardeners won’t have to throw out their basil due to the lack of leaves as many gardeners and growers have discovered since 2009.
You can grow basil all summer and into the fall.
Where can the new Rutgers varieties be grown?
These plants were originally developed for commercial field and greenhouse growers, yet we found that each grows nicely and easily in plastic or ceramic pots on porches and in home gardens.
Basil can also be grown indoors, but keep in mind the plant thrives in light, heat and a lot of water. Put it in an open window on a kitchen counter where the sun comes in.
When should basil be planted and how should it be cared for?
Homeowners can plant these basils after the last date of frost-inducing temperatures in the spring. These basils grow like all other sweet basils, and in our area the plants will continue to grow through September or into October, depending on the weather and if the plants are kept pruned and sheltered from the cold.
The key with basil is to keep it pruned and keep the plant from flowering, which can make the leaves taste bitter. By removing the flowers, the plant sends out side branches that result in more leaves and keeps it vegetative for longer periods. If possible, water in the morning and allow for good aeration and drainage in the growing media. Personally, I always water my basils underneath the foliage to keep the leaves dry.
What else should people know about the new Rutgers basil varieties?
These plants are vigorous. You can cut and harvest the leaves many times over many months. They were developed and bred using traditional breeding, including the crossbreeding of thousands of plants.
These varieties are not GMO. There’s no genetic engineering at all — just-good old-fashioned creative plant breeding. For more information on the Rutgers basil breeding program and sources for purchasing the new Rutgers DMR sweet basil seed, please visit the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station’s All-Star Varieties website: breeding.rutgers.edu.
Pro football champion Lou Holtz once said, “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”
For northwest Kentucky-based Rolling Hills Nursery owner, Rob Stanfa and his team of 10 employees, that’s the right strategic mix for growing a destination garden center and landscape business in a market where the population is about 19,000 and the annual median household income is roughly $28,000. Competition comes from big-box stores, smaller area garden centers, hard-goods suppliers and a humid subtropical climate consisting of four distinct seasons with a very short spring selling window of April and May.
Stanfa’s playbook is on target. Celebrating 30 years in business and located up the road from Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, Rolling Hills Nursery has grown from a “postage stamp-sized garden center and landscaping hub” once located behind a church in the center of town, to a nearly 9-acre garden center seamlessly specializing in nursery and supplies, landscape design and installation, and gifts and decor for the home and garden.
“Being an athlete, you focus on becoming that athlete in that one sport,” Stanfa says. “You do the best you can do and you get better at it with focus. When you want to be good at something, focus on being that.”
After 30 years of coaching a business and team-building a staff, Stanfa hesitates to describe his management style.
“I think my employees would probably say I’m the quarterback. I’m a Type A personality,” he says. “I work hard. I believe that success comes from persistence, from being available and able to endure — from creating a place that is respectable.”
Football isn’t just an analogy for Stanfa. An opportunity to play with Murray State University’s football team led Stanfa from his family’s home in Carlyle, Illinois, where he worked part-time at a small nursery, to Murray’s campus in 1973. From the start, “I liked the topography in Murray,” he says. “I fell in love with the area. Then I got to know the people and I felt like this was the place I wanted to be.”
While a student earning his bachelor’s degree in horticulture, Stanfa worked for that “postage stamp-sized garden center and landscaping hub,” then called Jones’s Landscaping. He left Kentucky for South Carolina in the late 1970s to be a county agent with Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service. He also received his master’s degree in plant and soil science from Clemson University, but the call of Murray was strong, and his wife received a job offer back in the area.
Returning to Kentucky, the couple bought a farm in Puryear, Tennessee, in the mid-1980s, about 18 miles south of Murray. There, Stanfa began a production facility, nurturing field-and container-grown trees and shrubs for retail. In 1989, he ceased that work and took over the lease for Jones’s Landscaping, changed the name to Rolling Hills Nursery (a nod to the rolling topography of his farm). He hired an industry development consultant and began plans and designs to move and expand the facility to its current location along a well-trafficked area north of town.
“The nursery and garden center are set at a lower grade from the roadway so when you drive by, you can look out almost across the entire facility,” he says.
Today, Rolling Hills Nursery draws its clientele primarily from Murray, but it also is a destination for visitors from other areas of Kentucky, as well as adjacent states. With a cohesive team, an enviable marketing strategy and a Facebook following of 46,000 and growing, shoppers travel to Rolling Hills Nursery from as far as 60 miles south into Tennessee. Inquiries come to the garden center through Facebook from Kansas, Virginia and North Carolina, among others.
“One of the things I wanted to accomplish was to make this a destination place,” Stanfa says. “I’ve been to a lot of other garden centers and it’s all about experience. Get rid of the dead plants, keep the weeds down, make everything organized, label things. We’ve tried to do all that and more, while offering shoppers a reason to be here and come back.”
Rolling Hills Nursery presents a spring open house each April and an Oktoberfest sales event in the fall, as well as random sales known as Hot-Spots that offer half-price plants while supplies last. Facebook-only (there are currently no plans for a presence on Instagram or an e-commerce program) marketing concepts include Happy Hour Fridays and weekly giveaways. Both incentives have proven highly successful for Rolling Hills Nursery and, ironically, in a town that once prohibited alcohol sales when “Happy Hour Fridays” began a decade ago.
“Back then we were the only happy hour in town,” says Randy Sanderson, garden center manager, who grew up on an area farm and has his bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Murray State University. “We host it on late Friday afternoons in April and May and offer in-store discounts. ‘Happy Hour Fridays’ has been popular for years and we continue to do it. Almost every week we offer something as part of our free Facebook giveaway. Our followers share the offer to their friends and our following just keeps growing and growing and growing.”
Stanfa says the business’ Facebook, which Sanderson manages, is its primary marketing outlet, followed by occasional local television advertising, print ads in high-end area magazines and on-air public radio sponsorship. Sanderson limits annual buying trips to the September BWI Expo and pays special attention to items that cannot be found elsewhere in town.
“We’re fairly different,” he says. “We emphasize a mix of accents for the garden and garden-related items for the home. Of course, we follow trends like farmhouse decor, which is hot now. We also have a good mix of concrete fountains — things people cannot find at the big-box stores. Customers use our lanterns both indoors and outside the home and for the last couple years, lanterns have been very popular for us. This mix helps draw people in and that’s how we can overlap with landscape. Customers come in, talk about their needs and then we put them in touch with our designers to work with them. We also offer inspirational sheets with pre-designed gardens they can do themselves.”
Sanderson has been with the company since it was Jones’s Landscaping and was hired on at Rolling Hills Nursery initially as landscape manager. Customers know of Sanderson’s design work, and now with another designer on staff, homeowners continue to seek out custom drawings, and the process for upselling landscaping unfolds organically.
“My perception is that people almost expect it,” he says. “They are of the mind, for example, that, ‘If I buy this tree, do you have someone to come plant it?’ So that’s how it’s evolved and of course now we have a 30-year reputation.”
In addition to offering plant diagnostics, the on-site nursery specializes in trees and shrubs, and offers a healthy assortment of in-season annuals, herbs, edibles and perennials. On-site greenhouses are used primarily as holding areas for plants sourced locally and from Midwest-area growers.
With a layout inspired by Berns Garden Center in Monroe, Ohio, which Stanfa visited and toured while considering his business’ move and expansion, Rolling Hills Nursery provides a covered concrete walkway throughout the facility.
Trees and shrubs are displayed along a square and in a central courtyard with an area for rows of trees on drip lines that are easily viewable. Signage points to plant highlights around the walkway, which is dotted with sculpture accents and includes an outdoor display kitchen. In addition to providing comfort for shoppers when it’s raining, the walkways provide necessary shade during mid- to late-summer months when temps typically soar to an average high of 90° F. Given the short selling season for retail plants, Stanfa says the covered design is key for maximizing the shopping experience and sales.
“Without a doubt, plants are the highest profit margin in my business,” he says. “We sell bricks and blocks as well, but that profit center is much lower. Retail is definitely a profit center, too, and Randy, who does all the buying, merchandising and selling, has a keen touch on what retail mark-up is in the garden center and how to move product through the business.”
Seasonally available shrubs are Rolling Hills Nursery top-sellers and include hydrangea, as well as upright and spreading boxwood, holly and flowering shrubs like laurel and Abelia, a Stanfa favorite.
“We’ve got our capacity pretty much where we need it to be, so we have no further plans to expand,” he says. “We have storage space for trees and shrubs in the back, where we can keep them irrigated and spaced in a holding area. We have a destination place that is, I hope, impressive as people drive by.”
Giving back to the community he loves is important to Stanfa, and to his team. “Everybody here knows us, and I think it’s important that we know them, too,” he says. “They have supported us, so we’ve got to support them. That’s it. That’s the bottom line.”
The author is founder of GreenMark Media and GreenMark Public Relations. Reach her at email@example.com. Editor’s note: Rolling Hills Nursery is not affiiliated with GreenMark Public Relations.
When an easy-to-grow edible gets named one of 2019’s new ‘It’ vegetables by the New York Times, edible-minded ears should tune in. Never mind that these mushrooms aren’t technically vegetables — they’re fungi — but consumers are relishing them just the same. Among Pinterest’s 250 million monthly users, 2019’s top trends revealed that food-related mushroom searches were up 64%. With simple mushroom growing kits, your customers can enjoy homegrown indoor mushrooms while you elevate your IGC’s edible authority.
Four IGCs where mushroom kits matter
Consumer interest in mushrooms and mushroom growing has blossomed the past few years, but the idea of hyperlocal, homegrown musshrooms isn’t entirely new. Stein’s Garden & Home, with 16 Wisconsin locations, has carried mushroom growing kits during fall and winter since the 1970s.
Susan Cieslak, Stein’s marketing manager, says the kits are a natural garden center fit. “Stein’s continues to carry them as we have many repeat customers, new customers in the DIY market and the gift-giving consumer, and it can be a novelty item for growing and gift-giving,” she says.
Shoppers at Rail City Garden Center in Sparks, Nevada, have been buying mushroom growing kits for close to a decade — ever since owner Pawl Hollis added them to the IGC’s edible-focused mix. “I saw them and just said, ‘These are cool.’ That was it.” he says.
With hot Nevada summers that redefine “room temperature,” Hollis limits Rail City’s mushroom kit offerings to cooler fall and winter seasons, but he’s steadily expanded the kits he offers during those months. With a spin-off farmers market on site, Hollis says the kits accentuate Rail City’s focus on grow-your-own produce and local foods.
At West Seattle Nursery & Garden Center, gift and houseplant buyer Ingrid Nokes finds that mushroom kits dovetail perfectly with Pacific Northwest interests in indoor urban gardening and foraging for wild mushrooms and other foods.
Nokes has been stocking mushroom kits year-round at the Washington state IGC for about 10 years.
Sales are strengthened by surging interest in home gardening and urban farming. Even so, the kit sales still peak with fourth quarter holiday sales. “It’s just a really cool gift to give somebody,” Nokes says.
New York City’s Urban Garden Center has wanted to carry mushroom kits for years, but Dimitri Gatanas, UGC’s director of marketing, says they didn’t “take the plunge” until April of this year. Unlike standard brick-and-mortar stores, the IGC’s main retail space is a greenhouse, which prompted concerns about how greenhouse watering might affect mushroom kits.
While the busy spring season offered some challenges, the kits passed the test. “From what we experienced, it is not a complicated product to store and sell,” Gatanas says. “You just need to educate your staff to be able to educate and promote this to our customer. This goes for any product that is either new or outside-the-box as far as garden center retailing goes.”
Simple DIY mushroom options your customers can enjoy
With unusual mushroom varieties popping up on restaurant menus, social media and in produce aisles, consumers want to grow their own. Responding to interest, many mushroom growers have expanded their offerings to include “ready-to-fruit” kits that make homegrown mushrooms simple and easy for indoor gardeners. With this growth, more varieties of mushroom kits have hit retail shelves.
While the kits and the mushrooms they produce vary significantly from vendor to vendor, they’re all designed to make the process as simple as can be. Kits typically come in a bag or box exterior that holds neatly bagged mushroom-growing media, which is often sawdust- or coffee-ground based.
At home on a tabletop or a pantry shelf, most indoor mushroom kits are as simple as open, water and watch them grow. With many kits, homegrown mushrooms are satisfying taste buds in as little as a week or two.
At Rail City, Hollis started out with kits for common button mushrooms and portabellas, from a company called Mushroom Adventures. But a chance encounter with a grower at a San Joaquin Valley farmers market expanded his vision. He still offers the original kits, but he now carries more exotic mushroom kit varieties. Sourced from a San Francisco grower, Far West Fungi, the mini-farm kits span shiitakes, lion’s mane and colorful oyster mushrooms.
Urban Garden Center offers growing kits from a Canadian mushroom company, Homegrown Mushrooms (Champignons Maison), whose kit offerings include various oyster mushroom varieties as well as reishi and shiitakes.
West Seattle Nursery carries large and small mushroom mini-farms of pearl and pink oyster mushrooms, opting for table-top and windowsill grow-kit specialists, Back to the Roots.
Stein’s offerings include kits by a regional mushroom grower. Portabella kits are their top sellers, followed by white button mushrooms and oyster mushroom kits.
Front-line tips on mushroom kit merchandising
Finding just the right place for mushroom kits in your IGC may involve testing a few options and pivoting quickly when the busy spring season or holiday gift-giving time rolls around. West Seattle Nursery displays its mushroom growing kits alongside books on mushrooms, mushroom identification and mushroom foraging. Merchandising them alongside birding-related products has proven successful, too.
For maximum impact, follow Rail City’s lead. When the IGC’s fall supply arrives, Hollis immediately opens one of each variety and lets customers watch them grow. “They’re very simple. All the instructions are inside, and they look great,” he says. “Customers say, ‘This is cool! How do I do this?’” Stein’s seasonal mushroom kit sales begin in fall and peak with December gift-giving. Cieslak says the kits usually get point-of-sale positions near the registers, where impulse buys and gift-giving purchases ensue.
As a newcomer to mushroom kit sales, Urban Garden Center’s experience yields valuable tips. “It was difficult to find a proper setting for this item to sell. We decided to introduce it by our seed section,” Gatanas says. Though customers were curious, the kits seemed to get lost in the spring shuffle, but Gatanas doesn’t fault the product or the customers. “This actually may be a better product to push during the Christmas season, or even as a great winter offering since people are yearning to grow indoors while the weather is still cold outside,” he says.
For IGCs interested in mushroom kits, Gatanas advises thinking outside the box. And at Urban Garden Center, more mushroom kits are ahead.
“I think we need to embrace this product in a grander way. Our supplier is working with us to create a ‘natural’ display that will allow mushrooms to grow on a wall, sort of a like a green wall,” he says. The IGC also plans to reintroduce the product in “UGC eats,” a hybrid retail-coffee shop.
Back in Seattle, Nokes’ advice is succinct: “It’s just a no-brainer. The kits are a great way to teach kids where food comes from. They’re popular with children and adults. They’re simple, and it’s fun! People are going to be interested.”
The author is a freelance writer specializing in the horticulture industry and a frequent contributor to GIE Media publications. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.