Niche Markets

Features - Industry Analysis

See how nurseries successfully sell a specialty product.

May 28, 2010

Green roofs
Eco-Roofs, a division of Twixwood Nursery in Berrien Springs, Mich., was created when some of the nursery’s landscape customers started ordering plants for green roofs. These rooftop projects were relatively new to the United States, but the nursery saw a need to increase production of sedum and other green roof-ready plants. The nursery had been selling groundcovers and perennials for 40 years, so there was no lack of plant knowledge. But entering green roof territory took some added education, said Homer Trecartin, a salesman at Eco-Roofs.

“Selections for green roofs are very specific plants,” he said. “It’s best to have plants with shallow root systems.”
 Sedums are the No. 1 plant the company grows and sells for green roofs.
“Sedums are a great choice because there are lots of species, which provides nice variation of color and texture,” he said. There are some designs hitting the market that allow for plants with deeper root systems, such as natives and grasses, he said.
Eco-Roofs expanded its reach and developed a tray system for green roofs about two years ago. “We’re an accredited Green Roof Professional by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities,” he said. The green roof market is gaining in popularity, but there’s still a lot of education needed for designers and installers.
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Ecological restoration
It’s all about diversity of plant species when it comes to ecological restoration, said Jason Fritz, sales manager at JFNew in Walkerton, Ind.
“It’s pretty specialized. There are usually 15-25 species in a given restoration area,” Fritz said.
Sourcing plants for ecological restoration projects is often difficult, he said. Jim New created the nursery about 20 years ago when he couldn’t find plant material for a wetland restoration project.
“For the restoration market, the required native species are very specialized. Some seeds are on the plant for only a few days a year, so sometimes there’s only a two-day window to collect seed.” The nursery also provides design, site inspections, installation, maintenance and permitting services.
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BNC Ornamentals, dba BioGreens, in Agassiz, British Columbia, Canada, has been selling Miscanthus ‘Giganteus’ as a biofuel crop for about year. The nursery is a traditional perennial and ornamental grass grower, but owner Jake Debruin was following the biofuel story in Europe a few years ago.
A) Sedum, B) Eco-restoration, C) Giant miscanthusDebruin visited his local research station and asked if they were interested in testing ‘Giganteus,’ but the researchers were interested in other crops, he said. Some three years later, he was about to plow under the ‘Giganteus’ stock, when the research station called. “They wanted to buy some to test it for ethanol and for livestock bedding.” He was literally minutes from destroying his stock.
Now he sells it bare-root to a broker in Michigan, who sells it to farmers for biofuel. Miscanthus ‘Giganteus’ is about twice as productive for biofuel as switch grass because of the longer growing season and greater leaf area, he said.
“Since miscanthus is a perennial grass, it also accumulates much more carbon in the soil than an annual crop such as corn or soybeans.”  
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