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Low-Maintenance & Organics Top Trends in Gardening Survey

Sarah Kellner
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Are gardeners in the Western and Northeastern states at the cutting edge of the U.S. organic gardening universe? Are millennials leading a surge in the new urban gardening movement? Are rain barrels and sprinkler timers the beginning salvo in a dramatic shift taking place toward water conservation in gardening?

We uncovered answers to these and other questions during The Home Depot’s Fall Gardening Survey, conducted in August 2015.

Out of the 1,735 respondents, 79 percent were female. There were distinct differences in responses between gardeners who are under 35 years of age — millennials who responded via Survey Monkey — and those over 35, Garden Club subscribers who took the same survey.

We also broke out the results by U.S. region:

  • Western – 23 percent of respondents
  • Midwest – 19 percent
  • Northeast – 19 percent
  • South – 39 percent

Many pursuits — like planting lavender, for example — seem to be popular across the board, but we also saw some new trends like urban gardening emerge among younger gardeners as compared to their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

Dig in below for a complete look at the trends we discovered as a result of the survey.

Low-Maintenance Gardening

We all love the beauty of intricately patterned succulents in our windowsills, or the taste of fresh, homegrown basil in our bruschetta. But we don’t always have the time we’d like to bring these greens to fruition.

Fear not. The right combination of no-fuss plants, time- and water-saving tactics like sprinkler timers, and simple projects like container gardening make low-maintenance gardening a great solution for green thumbs who are on a budget and on-the-go.

Rain Barrels

Water-saving rain barrels, which are easy to set up and easy to use, are extremely popular with gardeners all across the country:

  • More than 25 percent of gardeners over 35 years of age say they are using rain barrels and other similar collectors in each of the four regions of the U.S., while more than 15 percent of millennial gardeners in each region reported using them.
  • Gardeners in the South who are over 35 years old edged out other regions in the use of rain barrels, with 28 percent saying they used them.
  • Among millennials, gardeners in the West led the charge with 20 percent reported usage.

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“For those looking to create rain collection systems,” says Garden Club editor Renee Valdes, “the easiest way is to install diverters that direct rainwater right from the downspouts of your gutters. The rainwater collects right into your barrel system.”

If you do decide to use a rain barrel, be sure to install a screen over the top to prevent the standing water from becoming a mosquito breeding site.

Sprinkler Timer Systems

These systems are another popular low-maintenance technology that save both water and time.

  • 26 percent of all gardeners over the age of 35 reported using timers on their sprinklers.
  • In the West, almost 50 percent of Western gardeners over 35 years of age say they are using timers, as are 25 percent of Western millennials.

What Are Low-Maintenance Gardeners Planting?

With their stunning variety of shapes and patterns and ability to grow just about anywhere, it’s no surprise that succulents are a gardening favorite. Hostas popped up, too.

  • In the drought-affected Western states, 42 percent of over-age-35 gardeners say they are growing succulents.
  • 35 percent of Western millennials are growing them.
  • Gardeners of all ages in the South are planting succulents.
  • Hosta was reported as a favorite plant by more than 74 percent of over-35 gardeners in the Northeast and Midwest.

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We asked Maureen Bell, master gardener from Windham, Vt., to weigh in on the best low-maintenance fall plants.

“Simply put,” she says, “perennials require the least maintenance — some maintenance, but not a lot. Woody plants, like shrubs and trees, including fruit trees, often require little maintenance. But also herbaceous plants, like hostas, astilbes and lilies require little more than dividing and separating when they get too big.”

Low-Maintenance Gardening Projects

Low maintenance was a major theme for the most anticipated fall garden projects, with 53 percent of over-35-year-olds planting bulbs for spring flowers and 56 percent partaking in container gardening.

For Garden Club editor Lucy Mercer, low-maintenance gardening means container gardens on her porch. “After the initial setup involving containers, bags of potting mix, and trays upon trays of annuals and perennials, there’s not much to do besides water and deadhead.”

Container gardening is especially popular among beginner gardeners, says Miriam Illions, director of community development for Hometalk.com, an online home and garden community.

“Starting a garden is hard work, requires proper conditions, and can be expensive,” she explains. “However, container gardening offers a low-maintenance and cost-friendly alternative, especially to those just looking to gain gardening know-how, enjoy the farm-to-table experience, or share a gardening project with their kids.” 

Gardeners of all ages are also looking forward to these fall projects:

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Organic gardening

Simply put, organic gardening means working in cooperation with the environment for tasks such as pest control and fertilization, and using natural gardening methods rather than synthetic ones.

As more people gain awareness of where their food is coming from and how it’s grown, this trend — particularly organic vegetable gardening — is skyrocketing in popularity.

“For many gardeners,” says Mercer, “control over what goes into their produce is the reason they became interested in growing vegetables in the first place.”

Millennials comprise a fast-growing segment of this movement:

  • In each of the regions we surveyed, more millennials say they are practicing 100 percent organic gardening than over-35ers.
  • More than 40 percent of all millennials in the Northeast, South and Midwest expressed interest in learning how to grow edible plants organically.
  • Millennials that largely planted organically also preferred to plant:
    • Edibles: leafy greens (41 percent), followed by squash (37 percent) and onions (32 percent).
    • Annuals: Marigolds were most popular at 24 percent, followed by geraniums, impatiens, pansies and zinnias, each at 13 percent.
    • Shade-loving annuals: Organic-planting millennials also preferred impatiens (20 percent) and begonias (17 percent) when it comes to shade-lovers.
    • Perennials: Favorites were lavender (30 percent), sunflowers (22 percent), and hosta (19 percent).

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Gardeners over the age of 35 enjoy organic gardening as well:

  • The Western states had the highest number of fully organic gardens, at 19 percent.
  • Fully organic gardeners over 35 say they prefer planting:

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  • Edibles: leafy greens, squash and onions.
  • Annuals: This group’s sun-loving annuals of choice were geraniums and marigolds; impatiens and coleus were the preferred shade-loving annuals.
  • Perennials: It is probably no surprise that low-maintenance perennials topped the list — hostas were above and beyond the top shade-loving perennial, with 45 percent of organic gardeners over 35 saying they planted it. Lavender topped the list for sun-loving perennials, followed closely by sedum.

Raking Leaves & Composting

Composting is another essential part of organic gardening and is extremely eco-friendly. With just a few supplies and some basic know-how, you can compost your kitchen and yard waste, which not only reduces landfill waste and the pollution created by waste transportation, but the mixture also enriches your soil with much-needed nutrients.

When we asked our experts about their least favorite fall gardening activity, leaf collection topped the list.

“Of course, raking leaves must be everyone’s least favorite fall activity, but if you look at it from the perspective of composting, it’s so important,” explains master gardener Bell. “One can never have enough ‘browns’ to go with the ‘greens,’ so bagging them and keeping them for next season is very important.”

To ease the monotony of this chore, Valdes suggests investing in a leaf shredder. “It would be great having shredded leaves and reusing them in garden beds to help keep plants warm through winter,” she says. Not a bad idea!

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Urban Gardening

Urban gardening is the process of growing plants in an urban environment. Especially popular among millennials, this trend encompasses several unique concepts such as container gardening, indoor gardening, community gardening, guerrilla gardening, and rooftop gardening.

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More millennials identify themselves as “urban” gardeners, with twice as many under 35 saying they garden in urban settings than the over-35 group.

According to a 2014 Nielsen study, the top cities where millennials live are in the Western portion of the country — with cities like Austin, San Diego and Denver having the highest concentration of millennials.

It should come as no surprise then that the highest percentage of millennials identifying as urban gardeners — 17 percent — live in the Western U.S.

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  • Top plantings for urban gardeners included: marigolds (47 percent), impatiens (35 percent), leafy greens (45 percent), onions (34 percent) and lavender (45 percent).
  • Of the under-35 urban gardeners in our survey, 55 percent said they were planning to practice, or are currently practicing, container gardening, which in many instances is done in an urban setting and is often low-maintenance.
  • 35 percent of our millennial survey respondents said they wanted to learn how to plan an urban garden.

Gardening Apps

Despite the rising popularity of smartphone apps, the reported use of gardening apps among survey respondents was relatively low, proving that when it comes to gardening, nothing quite beats getting your hands dirty.

Millennials proved to be fairly low-tech — 64 percent reported not using any garden tech at all.

  • Gardening apps among over-35ers are the most popular in the Midwest, with 5 percent usage, and in the South, with 4 percent usage.
  • App usage was highest overall among millennials in the Northeast, with 6 percent stating they used them.
  • Survey findings show that gardeners from both age groups may be warming up to the idea of using technology to help them better manage their gardening time and energy, and reduce garden maintenance.

About 30 percent of all survey takers across all age groups said they were interested in learning more about Internet apps they could use moving forward.

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Here are some gardening apps that our Garden Club editors recommend:

  • Garden Time Planner by Burpee: This app helps gardeners know when to sow, transplant and expect to harvest vegetables and herbs specific to their garden region. The app includes a database of plants, local weather and links to how-to-gardening videos. – L.M.
  • Pl@ntNet: Plant identifier apps such as Pl@ntNet can be very helpful when you’re unsure of what you’re encountering. All you do is snap a photo and it brings up several options with information. The Home Depot’s Plant Search is also helpful to help find info about your plant’s ideal growing conditions. – R.V.
  • The Homegrown with Bonnie Plants App is easy to use and quite useful. It helps you keep track of watering and when you last fertilized your plants and which ones. You catalog your own garden, including which insects you noticed on a particular day, and it also provides quick tips and info on popular topics — such as mulching and natural weeding techniques. Need a recipe for one of your garden veggies? It provides those, too. You can even take photos of your garden as part of the notes and daily diary. – R.V.
  • Fertilizer Calculator: A handy pocket calculator that will make sure your plants have all the right nutrition they need.
  • Mulch Calculator: The Home Depot’s tool helps you figure out how much mulch you need for your landscape.

Decorating the Garden

Gardeners over 35 years of age really enjoy using outdoor décor:

  • About 70 percent say they have some kind of garden decoration.
  • Half of those respondents told us what they have, with the most popular items being statuaries, bird baths, animal figurines, glass gazing balls and gnomes.
  • Along with this interest in decorative garden objects, more than 41 percent of over-35 gardeners stated that they would like to learn more about landscaping design.

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Flower Gardening

Gardeners over 35 seemed to favor flower gardening over younger gardeners. Among the favorites:

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Favorites among millennial flower gardeners also included marigolds, as well as hosta and lavender.

Indoor Gardening and Houseplants

The most popular variety of houseplant among over-35 respondents is also one of the easiest to maintain: Christmas cactus.

Orchids, aloe, spider plants, African violets, philodendron and other cacti were also popular with this group.

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Conclusion

If you’re thinking about starting a garden for the first time, follow this advice from the Garden Club’s Mercer: “So many gardening problems evolve from being too ambitious or attempting to grow plants that aren’t suited for your landscape. So choose plants suited to your area and know your soil and light conditions. Know how much time you have to invest in gardening.”

A large part of gardening is trial and error but with a little experimentation and a lot of patience, you can have the lush garden you’ve always wanted.

If you have questions specific to your region and conditions — or you just want to see what’s new — check out the resources on Garden Club and the Home Depot Community.

While you’re here, subscribe to our emails — you’ll get tips specific to your area sent to your inbox each week, plus a coupon.

Happy planting!

Got questions about this article or any other garden topic? Go here now to post your gardening ideas, questions, kudos or complaints. We have gardening experts standing by to help you!