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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Garden Detective: Horticultural trends for 2020

Horticulture students train at Farmingdale State University

Horticulture students train at Farmingdale State University Credit: Farmingdale State College/William J. Steedle

Trends. I’m not quite sure when humans began following them — or even taking note of them, but from fashion to pastimes and gardening, they’ve been affecting our behavior for a long time. Of course, in all of these areas, there’s a metaphoric chicken-and-egg situation: Do things become trendy because everyone is doing them? Or does the crowd follow a few trendsetters — paradoxically cementing the trend?

We may never know, even as trends come and go, and entities either predict or take notice of the latest crazes. To wit, as it does every year, the Garden Media Group, which caters to the nursery trade, recently announced its eight trend predictions for 2020. GMG mostly serves growers and retailers, so its aim is to help facilitate sales, but if sales are expected to grow in certain areas, our purchases are expected there, as well — so take notice. The group also has correctly predicted more than a few trends over the years, from outdoor living rooms to succulents to an increased interest in growing edibles and the search for mental wellness in the garden.

1. “Cities of the Future”

GMG foresees the growth and revamping of the nation’s urban areas, which it believes will incorporate horticulture, sustainability and green infrastructure in the creation of new “central recreational districts” that will include parks and other outdoor gathering places. Property values, population, employment opportunities — and trees! — are expected to grow in these areas, which are projected to lure young professionals and foster more nature- and community-driven urban lifestyles. And, naturally, these areas will be highly “Instagrammable.”

2. “Circular" economy

A new economy using nature as a template is not only forecast, but has begun to take shape. Harking to a time when items were repaired instead of replaced and reused instead of discarded, the new initiatives would minimize waste and optimize our resources. This isn't pie-in-the-sky ideology, either. Such companies as GM, Unilever and Annie's Homegrown, best known for its organic macaroni and cheese products,  already are "getting on the circular bandwagon,” with Unilever's sustainable brands growing "46% faster than the rest of the business in 2018," according to GMG. The report also cites a new Google plan for "a circular Google" and the growth of companies selling products in reusable and refillable containers.

3. Green-collar jobs

All this urban growth is predicted to create trends in green industries with a focus on greater energy efficiency and resource sustainability. With the growth of the gardening industry reaching $40.2 billion in sales in 2018 and expected to reach $49.3 billion by 2023, there will be a need for more labor. Currently, the report says, horticulture job vacancies outnumber graduates in the field by two to one, and the need for everything from horticultural therapists, hydroponic and aquaponic experts to gardening services and plant bloggers is expected to continue growing.

4. Endangered soil

Before the 20th century, soil was richer in nutrients — and so was the food grown in it. Today, for many reasons, including deforestation and erosion, our crops simply don’t have the same nutritional value.

“If current trends continue, soil as we know it — or more importantly as we need it — will be gone by 2050,” according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. To address this, GMG says we’ll be implementing regenerative practices, with changes in farming, forestry and gardening methods that aim to rebuild soil organic matter, restore degraded soil, sequester carbon and reduce runoff.

So, what soil-friendly habits should we implement at home? Garden organically, compost, use organic fertilizers, till with worms and biochar (a soil conditioner composed of a charcoal-like substance made by burning organic material) and grow so-called "green manures," such as clover, buckwheat, beans and lentils.

5. Thinking outside the house 

The houseplant trend is still growing strong, especially among younger adults crunched for time, space and money. Succulents still lead the pack among those under 35, with photos of echeveria, aloe, monstera, string of dolphins and pilea the most popular Instagram posts tagged #PlantParenthood or #HouseplantClub.

The industry has noticed, and GMG predicts landscape plants will be the next big thing. The group expects the trend will take off with a renewed interest in outdoor container gardening, a seeming natural progression from houseplants.

6. Frog-friendly spaces

Amphibians like frogs and toads are going extinct at an alarming rate, thanks to habitat destruction, pollution, pesticides, increased UV radiation and climate change, according to GMG, which predicts increased awareness of their plight in 2020. The industry expects that to manifest in an increase interest in (fishless) ponds and water gardens.

Creating a frog-friendly backyard has other benefits: the green, croaking creatures feast on mosquitoes, slugs and plant-eating beetles.

7. Not just some fungi 

Mushrooms are having a moment. They’ve been found to help clean oil spills, absorb pollution and fight viruses, and they may be an answer to our plastics problem (recently discovered plastic-eating mushrooms are being eyed to reduce the rate of decomposition in landfills from 400 years to just a few months). Although you can’t throw mushrooms in your recycling bin and claim to save the environment, you can allow mushrooms to grow in your garden, where they’ll enrich the soil (just don’t eat them; they could be poisonous).

How does this translate to a trend? Expect to see inoculated-log grow kits and highly-nutritious, mushroom-infused edibles, powders, teas and lattes at a retail counter near you.

8. True blue

Shades of blue have been turning up everywhere since classic blue was dubbed color of the year in Pantone Color Institute’s annual trend forecast in December.

Fashion, home furnishings and — you guessed it — plants in shades of indigo have fallen into favor with marketers as well as consumers. So expect to see blue hydrangeas, lavenders, delphiniums and similarly hued blossoms take center stage in 2020 along with the requisite patio umbrellas, cushions and planters.

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