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Garden trend for 2019: Get real, says Burpee chairman

George Ball, chairman of Burpee Seeds, says authenticity is the trend in gardening. (Photo: Dean Fosdick of Associated Press, courtesy Burpee)

Relevance appeals to millennials as well as boomers – as does fun

Burpee Seeds’ George Ball, the man who keeps a 143-year-old brand relevant, sees 2019 as a year of opportunity for the gardening industry.

“This is a decisive period of time,” Ball said in a phone interview. “It’s critical, both in terms of demographics and technology.”

Ball bases his prediction on two major gardening audiences: boomers and millennials.

“Our big challenge: One is fading out while the other is fading in,” he observed.

Right now, those trends are converging in a way where gardening appeals to both groups.

“In gardening, we’ve reached an absolute sweet spot,” said Ball, 67. “It’s time to really go forward and go for us aging baby boomers – I’m one. But even more crucial, we need to go for the up-and-coming gardeners, the millennials.”

In the digital age, gardeners of all ages can be overwhelmed by information, he added. Some topics -- chemical use, plant breeding, changing weather – add to uncertainty.

What people forget is gardening should be fun.

“In gardening, the B.S. is over; that’s what will be different this year,” he said. “Go back to traditional plant breeding, seeds that grow and gardens that work. Gardening is about playing. That’s why we garden.”

Boomers and millennials equally like to play, Ball added. But the key to reaching both audiences comes down to relevance.
Burpee's tomato seeds include a Baby Boomer
cherry variety. It's the red cherry lower right. (Photo:
Kathy Morrison)

“Baby boomers grew up inventing relevance,” he said. “That’s been passed on to millennials. They think they live, breathe, eat relevance.”

As Burpee’s ambassador as well as chairman, Ball finds himself surrounded by millennial gardeners in their 20s and early 30s. The question he gets asked often: “Are you real?”

“There’s this whole authenticity thing,” he said. “But gardening is about as real as it gets.”

He gets questions about GMOs. (Burpee doesn't sell any GMOs and breeds its plants the old-fashioned way.) Heirlooms vs. hybrids? (“Some heirlooms are really great, but others are not starters,” Ball said.)

“I’m a plant scientist,” he said. “Traditional plant breeding is just coaxing out of the gene pool what wants to get out.”

Sometimes it’s golden orange cherry tomatoes that taste like honey drops (called Honeycomb). Others, it’s wine-purple speckled striped petunias (Starry Sky). They’re among dozens of introductions in Burpee’s new 2019 catalog ( ). More on those new plants and many more next week.

Meanwhile, Ball urges gardeners – and garden companies – to see the real fun in gardening.

“I felt last year was a sea change,” he said. “We got away from the B.S. The trend now is to keep it real.”


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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