Landscape contractors are looking past the challenges of a sluggish economy and ahead to what looks like a pretty bright future for the industry. The focus is on updating landscapes that need a long-overdue makeover and watching the trends of a new generation of consumers, which, according to the Garden Media 2015 Garden Trends Report, includes a rapidly growing base of Millennials, Hispanics and the top spenders in the industry, young men.
Here's a look at the trends contractors see and how they are fulfilling these requests from customers.
In San Anselmo, Calif., Janet Gross, owner of Heritage Landscapes, sees definite trends unfolding with homeowners that will continue well into 2015. The trends she sees have everything to do with water conservation, tuning in to nature and keeping it simple.
“People want something that is real,” she says, adding that people are turning toward fire to meet that objective.
“We need to get back to the basics … Fire is real,” she says. This means an uptick in outdoor kitchen installations, fireplaces and fire pits.
Gross says that homeowners are finally starting to show interest in edible landscapes. She also says that adults and children are suffering from a nature deficit. People are aware of this, which has resulted in more landscaping with native plants and plants that attract wildlife. “Landscaping is moving toward figuring out sustainable relationships in nature and how we can replicate those relationships in landscapes,” she says. “I like it when kids run to get their boots when they see me coming.”
The cost of water is determining trends to a large extent in the Southwest. In Phoenix, Back to Nature Land Care’s Matthew Edgar and Dave Londen are capitalizing on this trend by becoming educated about all aspects of xeriscaping.
The company, which services strictly commercial properties, is encouraging building/property owners to consider the savings in removing thirsty turf.
Edgar and his crew are learning about sustainable landscaping practices while becoming certified.
“Sustainability is really starting to take hold,” Edgar says. “A lot of it is due to economics, so as properties have less dollars, property owners want to go with plants that require less trimming and over all maintenance.”
Up the coast in Salem, Ore., the trend in outdoor living continues with a focus on kitchens and fire pits. Rich Kansky, owner of Green Acres Landscape, says besides installing kitchen appliances and firepits, they do a lot with pavers and also LED lights for mood and safety. He also sees a trend for low-maintenance plants that require minimal watering.
“After a long day at work and family activities, people want to enjoy their yards, not be tied down with a lot of work,” he says.
Kansky and his crew serve the Willamette Valley, Northern Coast and Portland Metro areas. They do mostly remodeling or landscape updates for existing residential customers.
One person who has her hand, or perhaps hoe on the pulse of the latest trends is Jan Bills, owner of Two Women and a Hoe in Royal Oak, Mich. Bills says residential and commercial customers are really tuning into the concept of sustainability.
Landscape contractors usually know what their customers want before they do. They follow the trends and see what people are interested in adding to their landscapes. They use educational workshops, demonstrations and photos to try to “soft sell” their clients on these new trends.
For instance, Bill Whetstone, owner of Greater Detroit Landscape encourages people to consider trends in lighting by installing a demo for them on their property. When they see how good it looks and the sense of security it provides they are usually more willing to justify the expense, which can run into six figures.
Jan Bills, owner of Two Women and a Hoe spends her winter months doing gardening workshops, educating folks to new trends in gardening. She speaks to groups near her home and across the country and posts hundreds of ideas on her social media channels, particularly Facebook.
Folks like Back to Nature Land Care’s Matthew Edgar has to simply do the math with his Arizona clients. He shows them the cost savings in removing turf and replacing it with stone, boulders and desert plants. So he has picked up a lot of commercial work and satisfied customers in his area.
Chad Cosby, landscape designer and owner of Chandler Landscapes in Vestavia, Ala., posts pictures to the company website and web page showing e outdoor furniture, including stainless steel kitchens and fire pits. It has paid off in both convenience and sales. He can sell an idea by simply showing it to them on an iPad.
This is reflected in the choices that are being made in both plants and ornamental features. She says people are moving away from high maintenance annuals and even perennials. Her mantra these days is “right plant, right place,” meaning using plants that thrive in their native environment and don' require constant maintenance or other inputs. “If you’re not someone out there gardening, like typically 90 percent of my clients aren’t, then you want things that are right plant right place and reducing high risk plants," she says.
She uses trendy plants including Little Devil Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Donna May') and Drift roses, both popular choices for low-maintenance planting.
Bills’ crew will often repurpose items they see in people’s yards, like flagstone, boulders and various odd items. “Repurposing is hot, hot, hot,” Bills says. “People are just crazy about that stuff.”
In Kearney, Neb., Mike Johnson, owner of Johnson Lawn and Landscape takes advantage of the cold winters by building cedar wood pergolas for clients. “We custom build them for customers and build them to the size of the landscape and hardscape that we are going to install for them,” he says.
“We started this a couple of years ago and it went from building two one winter to five last winter and now eight this winter. It has been a great way for our employees to stay busy and employed over the winter months.” He adds the company has been working on more paver patios, free standing walls and water features.
“When it comes to the residential side of things we are seeing a lot more people wanting that outdoor living area. Of course this is brought on by one person doing one and then the neighbor wanting the same and then you get that snowball effect.”
“Things are picking up,” says Mike Patire, vice president of operations at Greco Landscaping in Franklin, N.J. He's seen an increase in requests for pavers after a lull in demand, as well as interest in prefab fireplaces, which he says are affordable and easy to install.
Owner Richard Greco says as a result of these recent trends, he is scrambling to keep up with the training needs of his seasonal employees.
Unfortunately, deer and bear are a real problem in Greco’s service area. However, it also offers Greco an additional revenue stream. They’ve become the go-to guys for fence installation that will protect a homeowner’s landscape investment. They don’t have any difficulty selling clients on decorative vinyl and PVC fencing.
“I definitely see an increase in commercial and residential spending,” says Greco. “I think the economy for the landscape industry has definitely turned around.”
Apparently it’s ditto for the big city, or rather, Big Apple. C and C Landscape Contractors, based in Merrick, N.Y., just 34 miles from New York City, caters to some of the Millennial crowd.
Joseph Costanzo says many of his clients enjoy the outdoors from the rooftops of buildings in the city, including the Manhattan rentals he services. He sees a trend in outdoor furniture and entertainment items, including pool tables, televisions and stereo systems, all covered, of course, from the elements.
Trendy plants for these spaces include different types of drought-tolerant succulents and ornamental grasses. He says native plants that can take the vagaries of New York’s climate are also trending.
Chad Cosby, landscape designer and owner of Chandler Landscapes in Vestavia, Ala., is also servicing people who like to entertain in their outdoor rooms. He says covered porches are hugely popular. He has a specific system of installing trendy items, like outdoor kitchens and fireplaces, that involves concrete, masonry and stainless steel that is pretty “bullet proof.”
One trend that should continue into 2015, according to Cosby, is the use of LED lighting that drastically cuts down on electric bills and bulb replacement. He says he also sees an uptick in homeowners wanting high end, low maintenance building materials including exotic woods like IPE.
Cosby says he uses the high resolution photos on the company web page to let his clients see how nice a certain design with plants and/or hardscaping will look. This way, he can sell customers on the latest trends.
“I’m a huge student of architecture so I’m constantly looking at new and better ways to do things,” Cosby says. Something is obviously working for his company; Cosby says 2014 was its best year yet.
Joshua Zito, owner of Earth Works Pro in Baton Rouge, La., has been busy replacing plants along coastal New Orleans, which is still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina. He says he needs to find more time to train employees and worries about the spending power of that formidable demographic: the Millennials.
He says Millennials are preoccupied with paying on mortgages, college loans and gadgets, and may not consider landscaping services until later in life. As for his current customers, Zito says some of his clients see ideas that may not work in their situation.
“People see things in a magazine they want to try and it might not be suitable for their landscape. I try to discourage them,” Zito says. “At the end of the day, though it is their money, if it works, it works; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”