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Petitti supports eco-friendly products and practices

Discover how Petitti supports eco-friendly products and practices introducing Orlandelli’s ebb-and-flow water tables into their retail spaces.

Whether it’s reducing waste, implementing recycling programs or finding new efficiencies, garden centers are constantly striving to perform in a more eco-friendly manner. Noelle Clark Akin, manager of training and education at Petitti Garden Centers in northeast Ohio, shared some of the ways they’ve introduced eco-friendly practices in their retail stores.

By Teresa McPherson - original version LAWN & GARDEN RETAILER

Watering Efficiently

Watering Efficiently
Growing plants successfully at the garden center isn’t so different from what customers go through at home with houseplants, Akin says. One of the most important aspects is watering — and ensuring the plants get just the right amount in the most efficient way.

When Petitti introduced Orlandelli’s ebb-and-flow water tables into their retail spaces, “we were working with a brand-new display and concept. Of course, bottom watering is always excellent for plant material, especially when they’re grown that way, but it took a little while to get everybody up to date; it was a little bit of a learning curve at first.”

Akin explains how the double-tiered tables work: “You flood the top table, and then you release that water to the bottom table — you’re flooding your top table and letting it kind of sit for anywhere from a half an hour to an hour. You can go and do other tasks, and then you can come back and flood the lower table with that water. The two-tiered tables are excellent for water saving and water efficiency.”

Akin cautions that, due to the nature of the two levels, plants’ light requirements must be taken into consideration when they’re placed on the tables. Bright-light plants should be placed on the top level, while lower-light-requiring plants can tolerate the shade cast by the upper level.

“It’s just a functionality of things that you have to figure out when you’re displaying and merchandising that area,” she says.
“We have some lower tiered tables that are maybe only 6 inches from the floor and, if we can situate them around a drainage system in the floor, you can just literally release [the water] back out into the drainage area. But lots of times we’ll have them drain that lower table into a bucket and then we’ll reuse it on another table.

“The top tier watering is awesome because you literally can just fill it up, let it sit, turn on a timer, come back and take care of that lower tier. They really have helped us in many, many ways and they really are very efficient as far as water saving. [They] also help the efficiency of the houseplant department.

“Greenhouses are set up for that excess water draining off, depending how you’re growing. But in a garden center, it’s a little bit different, so we try to take all of that drainage water and drain it into buckets and reuse it. It’s really nice.”

“We have the Orlandelli tables at all nine stores, and when you’re in the midst of the heavy May and June season, they really give you some freedom to maintain and water [plants] but then be able to help your customers in your annuals department,” she says.

Akin says Petitti uses the tables in different ways in their nine stores — some as endcaps and others as “featured tables.” She says that, on average, there are about seven double-tiered Orlandelli tables and usually about five in other configurations.

Maintaining the Tables

Akin says that the capillary mat included with each table requires occasional maintenance.

“Obviously you have to clean the mats, but honestly, as long as you keep them swept weekly, you really don’t have to do a deep cleaning. I think we probably only do a deep cleaning on the actual capillary mats that are on top of the table system,” she says. “We really only have to clean them deeply about twice a year. We try to move the plants around, condense, sweep underneath the plant material, get that debris out of there. It’s an easy way to make sure you’re moving through your plant material, condensing your plant material, making sure that you’re looking and scouting and taking care of everything.”

Efficient Irrigation

In addition to the water tables, every hanging basket at Petitti is set on lines with drip irrigation that goes directly into the basket. “We’re not wasting any water. If you get a little bit of overflow out of the basket and it goes into the plant material below, great! That’s a good after effect of that overflow of water.”

Akin says any trees in the nursery are all on separate drips as well. “The trees get set up on tree lines and each tree has its separate drip system that goes into those pots.”

Re-use, Repurpose, Recycle

Re-use, Repurpose, Recycle
Pots at Petitti are both recycled and repurposed. “We have a program at our stores [in which] customers can deposit pots and other customers can come and take pots as they need — we have recycle bins near our pickup areas and customers can simply drop off and pick up whatever they’d like,” Akin says.

She says she’s often contacted by schools and various community groups looking for plastic pots and trays to recycle or re-use. “Periodically, we get a person who is actually a true plastic recycler, so when they need plastics, we have them come out to the stores to pick up the plastic that’s in those bins.

“If we have any plant material that is shrink or wasted, we compost that and then we take the plastics that they were growing in — whatever pots, whatever sizes — and our staff will start stacking by size. And then we have pallets in the back shipping areas where we’ll fill pallets and then those pallets will get shipped back to the greenhouse and they’ll get cleaned and reused as well. We are definitely trying to make sure that we’re reusing or recycling the plastics as much as we possibly can.”

By the Numbers

By the Numbers
Akin says any type of plant shrink and wastage is composted, and they’re constantly working on efficiencies to reduce or eliminate any waste.

“Of course, our goal is to be selling every plant off the tables and off the hanging basket lines as best as we can and turning. So every year we go through an analysis and we try to figure out what’s the right number — what’s the right number of plants that we produce — and we’re always trying to tweak that number.

“And then we take our wastage numbers at the end of the year and we try to figure that whole problem out so we’re producing enough for customers to have what they need and trying to take care of those wastage numbers and trying to make sure that it’s less every year. We scrutinize that every year after production.

“I’ve been here over 20 years and our compost piles in the back used to be enormous mountains and it’s just not like that anymore,” she says. “It’s great because we’re trying to reduce any type of wastage, whether it’s soil or plant or what-have-you.”

She says the compost gets used as growing materials or fill out in their farms.

Going Natural

Akin says they’re seeing a shift in how people are caring for their plants.

“I see a little bit more of an upswing on your natural fertilizers and your more eco-friendly plant-care items. We’ve always been really big proponents of the Espoma products; we’ve really never had an issue selling Plant-tone and Holly-tone — that’s always been a really great partnership with us. But I do feel like we’re being asked to bring in more natural solutions.

“So every year we’re looking for more natural plant fertilizers. The marketing and the packaging [of these fertilizers] is really changing, and focusing toward that upswing and being one of the more natural solutions. Meanwhile, you don’t want to isolate customers who are still looking for the classic offerings. So we’re trying to have a good balance for our customers so they can find what they need. We’ll offer them other solutions and if they just want to go back to what has always worked for them, we still carry those products, products that their parents and grandparents probably use.

“We try to do a lot of education, you know, on how to apply any type of product and we hope that customers are listening.”

Akin also says she’s also seeing a boost in demand for native plants. “We’re lucky to have all of our growing facilities within easy distance from our stores. We always talk about how 98% of our plant material is grown locally right here in northeast Ohio, where all of our stores are. As far as shipping efficiencies and reducing that carbon footprint, everything is right here. We’re very proud of that.

“We also tend to overwinter plant stock in our stores as well, again trying to reduce that carbon footprint, not having to waste gas and what have you on shipping plants back and forth from the growing facility. We overwinter quite a few trees, some shrubs, evergreens, right on the store property. We’ve also been again scrutinizing shipping schedules and trying to make sure that, even though we want our stores to order as much as they need when they need it, we’re trying to make our store staff efficient at filling their trucks, filling their carts, making sure that they are ordering efficiently and putting those numbers together, too.”

Petitti Garden Centers is a family-owned home and garden business serving the Cleveland, Akron-Canton, and Youngstown, Ohio, communities.