Interest in gardening continues to flourish post-pandemic
The interest in gardening that bloomed during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic is flourishing.
And it seems like younger people are sticking with it, according to local experts.
"Gardening became a major, major pastime for a lot of people because of COVID," said Graham Hill, president of Platt Hill Nursery.
2021 was even busier for the business, which has locations in Bloomingdale and Carpentersville, he said. There was a bit of a dip in 2022, but 2023 has been "busier than ever," Hill said.
"A lot of younger homeowners with small children are really, really getting into it," he said.
That jibes with the 2023 Gardening Survey report from Axiom, a marketing company that specializes in service to the agriculture, horticulture, landscaping, energy, utilities and building industries.
The survey found that younger and newer gardeners are spending more time and money on the hobby, according to the report. Eighty percent of new gardeners said they planned to spend the same or more in 2023 than in 2022.
"This could be a sign that the industry is on track to keep many of the new gardeners who started gardening during the pandemic," the report said.
According to Axiom, members of the Gen Z and Y generations also plan to spend more time on it this year.
'No black thumbs'
Where are they buying their plants? In 2022, Home Depot was No. 1 at 29.3%, followed by independent garden centers at 23.2% and Lowe's at 20.2%.
Of course, Hill says there is an advantage to buying at an independent garden center such as Platt Hill: Expertise. The employees are happy to answer questions, including the basics, such as the difference between annual and perennial plants and what will grow well in our climate.
"There are no black thumbs, just varying degrees of green," Hill said.
If customers have problems with plants, they encourage them to take a picture and send it to them.
"We will talk you through problems," Hill said. "We are a continuing partner, making sure you are successful."
You can also find things a big box may not carry -- like a new hybrid tree Platt Hill carries, where four types of fruit trees have been grafted onto a tree.
Edible plants are still big sellers, and fruit trees and berry plants are big, he said. He is also seeing more apartment dwellers getting into gardening, either with houseplants or containers on their patios and balconies.
Some plant centers offered online plant buying during the start of the pandemic. Platt Hill did not, but it does publish its inventory online.
Hill said gardening is a family activity.
"Every kid I have ever met loves to stick a shovel in the dirt, whether or not it is productive," he said.
Tips for success
The University of Illinois Extension has provided advice to home gardeners for decades.
It, too, sees the pandemic-borne interest continuing, judging by enrollment in gardening programs, calls to its offices, requests for soil temperatures and people bringing plants in for identification or diagnoses of problems.
For example, more than 900 people have indicated an interest in attending Master Gardener classes in its Cook County office, said Candice Anderson, state Master Gardener specialist.
"I think most (new gardeners) realize how fun it is," Anderson said. "They start with one plant -- then you are kind of hooked."
Some of the Extension practices changed with the pandemic. Classes, for example, had to go online -- and they are continuing that.
"Online is beneficial for reaching a larger audience," Anderson said.
The Master Gardener program classes are a hybrid now. The Extension has also taken its show on the road, with booths at flea markets and community events.
And anecdotally, she sees younger people showing more interest.
As for what people should do if they want success?
Start small, Anderson said, with maybe one container, and grow what you like.
While tomatoes are the "picture child" of the vegetable gardening industry, she doesn't grow them because she doesn't like them. And mostly, "Don't be afraid to ask for help," Anderson said.