The Development of a Statewide Trial, Evaluation, and Promotion Program: Trialing Summer Annuals
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The “Green Industry” is a term that encompasses many agricultural occupations such as turfgrass production, retail garden centers, ornamental plant production, and the landscape installation and maintenance industry. Two of the predominant areas of the Green Industry are the landscape segment and plant production nurseries (Florkowski et al., 1994; Hubbard et al., 1989; Markus et al., 1992). The introduction of new, well performing plant material supports the growth of the landscape and nursery industries (Dunwell et al., 2001). As might be expected, there is a strong correlation between nurserymen and landscapers, both influencing the other (Garber et al., 1995). Nurseymen impact a landscaper’s decision depending on what plant material is available, in turn landscapers sway nurserymen in what to produce due to their demand. While nurserymen and landscapers influence each other, consumers influence both groups and in many ways control what the nurserymen produce and landscapers use (Phillips et al., 2007). According to Manalo (1990), product characteristics are a dynamic part in consumer decision making as to whether or not to purchase a product. Once desired plant characteristics are determined, nurserymen and landscapers then target their plant selection to satisfy consumer needs and demands (Phillips et al., 2007). Consumer demand drives the industry and can therefore, serve as a guide to nursery and landscape professionals in supplying the marketplace. One way in which the industry could supply the marketplace and respond to the demand of consumers is through the use of a statewide plant promotion program. There currently is no program like this within the state, yet there are several in states that surround Alabama. One of the most well known trial garden programs is at the University of Georgia. That program evaluates many ornamental landscape species including annuals, perennials, and woody ornamental, which are marketed nationwide through a promotion program called AthensSelect™ (Armitage and Green, 2001). The AthensSelect™ program selects plant materials that perform well under the drought and heat conditions of Georgia, and then promotes them nationwide. Having a program like this and having plant materials supplied to the marketplace, labeled by such a program, attracts consumers to their proven performance in rigorous evaluation protocols. The research conducted in this study was partitioned into three sections, an industry survey, a consumer survey, and a summer annual plant trial. Participants for the first study were recruited from the Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association (ALNLA) and consisted of representatives from landscape or plant production companies. The ALNLA was chosen because it is the largest and most widely recognized Green Industry organization in the state of Alabama. A survey was developed and sent to all participants with the intent of gathering information on industry perception of consumer demand, interest in a state plant promotion program, and opinions on specific annuals trialed. The second part of this study consisted of a consumer survey. Participants for this survey were selected predominately from Master Gardeners across the state. Master Gardeners were encouraged to forward a survey link to non-Master Gardeners within the state of Alabama as well. This survey was developed in order to gain information on preferred consumer characteristics, interest in a plant promotion program, and opinions of specific annuals trialed. Data collected from this study was compared to industry data to correlate and determine if Alabama’s Green Industry understands their consumers’ demands. The third part of this research consisted of a plant trial of two summer annual species, Angelonia angustifolia (angelonia) and Solenostemnon scutellarioides (coleus). Six cultivars of each species were evaluated in a replicated trial. The study was conducted at the Auburn University Teaching Garden on Woodfield Drive in Auburn, Alabama. The two annual species were trialed under full sun in central Alabama during the summer. A field day was hosted for the industry to directly assess performance of the cultivars of both species. This research is beneficial for the Green Industry, consumers, and economy in the State of Alabama. If a plant promotion program existed in Alabama, the industry would have first hand knowledge of new plant materials available for production and use. Consumers would have the opportunity to see these plants that are proven to perform well in our area, and based on other state’s experience with such programs, be more likely to purchase them.