The year is almost over and it feels like a good time to take a look back at the last twelve months and reflect on the terms and trends that permeated gardening for 2019 and how they inform where we are headed in 2020 and beyond.
1. The term soil food web has popped up in several books I read this year as well as in conversations about soil fertilizer and amendments. It is also a key component of one of the other top trends on our list: regenerative agriculture. You can think of a soil food web as an ecosystem that exists in the soil. It is comprised of organisms that live out all or most of their life within the soil. More focus this year has been given to not only what’s in our garden soil, but how our gardening practices over the last generation or two have taken a toll on the microbiology of our soil. Soil tests are becoming more advanced, less expensive, and more informative for the average gardener. There will be a focus on feeding the soil, not the plants, in home gardening as well as increasing the health of your garden soil through organic additives such as compost and mulch rather than synthetic ones.
2. Regenerative Agriculture is a huge buzzword that relates to what some would coin as a return to traditional farming practices. Soil scientists and farmers have begun to realize that current industrial farming practices are stripping our soil of the nutrients and microbiological ecosystem needed to support agriculture. With movies like “Biggest Little Farm” and books such as “Dirt to Soil” and “Growing a Revolution”, regenerative agriculture hit mainstream momentum in 2019. Offshoots from this movement include terms like “cover crops”, “intensive grazing” and “soil food web” (see above). Adopting ways to regenerate the soil and watershed, increase the health of the planet, increase yields, and generate more revenue for farmers are some of the aims of this movement. Looks for the term “regenerative” to shop up in buzzword lists in 2020. And yes, regenerative home gardening is a thing. I’ll talk more about it in my upcoming article on the book, “Dirt to Soil”, which I just finished reading.
3. Robogardening is the addition of technology to tasks in the garden. Robotic lawn mowers that mow the lawn for you and even find their way back to their charging station when done are on the rise. Technological inventions also help with things like weather monitoring to assist with lawn and garden watering schedules, reducing water waste. Rechargeable lawn equipment such as leaf blowers help get the job done without a reliance on fossil fuels. There are even tests being run with robotic bees that help pollinate plants and eliminate garden pests. I expect these types of solutions to increase as artificial intelligence (AI) technology paves the way to more efficient, environmentally-friendly gardening.
4. Succulent gardens are such a hot item right now. Department store shelves are lined with both live and artificial succulents for gardens and offices. The favorite amongst succulents is the Sedum. There are over 470 unique species in the Sedum genus. Not only are there a lot of them, but there is a lot of variety amongst them. Tall, short, squat, rounded, as well as variations in color from yellow to red, brown to gray, and on and on. Sedum are succulents, which means they are drought tolerant due to their water-storing leaves. Most succulents are able to survive in less than ideal environments and therefore make great candidates for indoor gardening and neglected or challenging spaces in existing gardens. They make great container gardens and require little in the way of maintenance, making them ideal for busy gardeners who are long on plant love but short on time.
5. Petite plants, often called called dwarf, support the old adage, “right plant, right place”. When I updated the landscaping in my front yard earlier this year, I was determined to plant smaller varieties that would never outgrow their space and would not require constant pruning to keep them in bounds. One of my personal pet peeves is seeing a house with its front windows covered with evergreen shrubs (usually Rhododendron or Laurel). Private? Yes. Proportional? No. Wholesale nurseries are catching on to this trend and coming up with smaller, dare I say diminutive, versions of old garden favorites. One example from my own yard is a Hibiscus shrub, also known as Rose of Sharon. My mom had one in her 5-acre yard that was about twelve feet tall and ten feet wide, which was fine given the size of her garden. Fast forward to my suburban yard. I suppose I could have fit a twelve by ten shrub in my yard, but I would have to keep it pruned regularly and wouldn’t have room for much else in whichever flower bed I let it take over. Instead, I found a new introduction called ‘Purple Pillar’ which is a columnar Hibiscus. It gets ten feet tall, but only two feet wide. It has flowers from a few inches above the ground all the way to the top and I don’t have to prune it at all. Expect to see more petite, or dwarf, plant introductions as house lot sizes continue to shrink.
6. The demise of insect life across the globe is of grave concern. Insects play a big role in food pollination, they recycle nutrients, keep the soil healthy, control pests, and serve as food to birds and other animals up the food chain. The three main factors scientists believe are influencing insect populations are intensive agricultural practices, urbanization, and climate change. Trends such as regenerative agriculture (see #2 above) are gaining steam to address insect decline from industrial agricultural practices, including heavy pesticide usage. However, urbanization continues to be a challenge both locally and globally. Open land continues to be annexed and houses are built to accommodate an ever-increasing human population. Climate change could be seen as a result of the previous two issues and may be slowed or even reversed with the proper incentives and motivation across the globe. More countries are dedicating resources to monitor and track insect species to get a better understanding of what is happening and why.
7. Biodiversity is usually defined as finding ways to attract a more diverse set of animals and insects into your yard. However, gardeners can also increase the genetic biodiversity of the plants in their garden. For example, less than a hundred years ago there were thousands, yes thousands, of apple varieties being grown, each with unique genetics. As industrial agricultural practices took hold, this diversity plummeted. Today there are just a handful of apple trees grown commercially, mainly for disease resistance, hardiness, and durability, with taste dropping much lower on the list of criteria. Unique varieties that did not meet these industrial farming criteria are now relegated to backyard hobbyists or extinction. The trouble with this lack of genetic diversity is that a single, pesticide-resistant disease could impact huge portions of commercial apples. This forces commercial farmers to increase their use of chemicals on the trees to defend against this possible scenario. When plant diversity exists, and this is true for the home garden as well as a commercial farm, it increases disease resistance, and attracts a wider range of wildlife. This isn’t limited only to edible plants. The same applies to ornamental plants as well. It is astounding how similar most suburban yards are and how little diversity of plants exist. One way to combat this is to plan for more diversity when you add plants to your yard. For example, instead of planting one type of tulip bulb, plant five different varieties. Instead of one fruit tree, plant a fruit salad tree, which has multiple varieties grafted on the same root stock. Increasing garden biodiversity is something every gardener can accomplish.
8. Climate change gardens are the next big trend in landscaping. As our seasons become more erratic it can wreak havoc on our garden plants. So far here in Portland we are seeing earlier springs, with hotter, drier summers, shorter, heavier bouts of rain which increase landslide and runoff concerns, and less precipitation falling as snowpack in the winter, causing water shortages the following spring and summer. Over the next few decades we are expected to move from a USDA growing zone 8 into a zone 9. That may not sound like a big deal, but many of our native plants are already starting to show signs of stress. Landscape designers and nurseries are starting to recommend plants (some native and some non-native) that are more suited to the climate we are headed toward, rather than the one we have enjoyed in the past. Plants that are very drought tolerant, can withstand hot temperatures, and offer multiple seasons of interest or long bloom times are favored, as are plants that are pollinator-friendly, to help support our pollinators through this global climate adjustment. Plan to see more plants that thrive in a warmer growing zone at your local nursery in 2020 as well as marketing or labeling that lists a plant as “climate adaptable”.
9. Houseplants made a comeback in a big way. There are numerous online sites, articles and tutorials that have cropped up this year about how to care for indoor plants. Owners of houseplants are now called “plant parents”. Millennials are driving the trend with Generation Z not far behind. Both groups have a strong desire to connect with nature in an increasingly indoor, urbanized, computer-based world. For example, services are cropping up that will send you a monthly houseplant care package with detailed instructions on watering, sunlight requirements, fertilizing needs, and a myriad selection of plants that thrive in an indoor environment. This trend is showing no signs of letting up. Living walls of succulent plants supported on a vertical growing structure are popping up in trendy restaurant strips and shopping areas across the city. As people spend more and more time indoors the mighty houseplant is filling the nature gap.
10. This year saw a strong focus on bright plant foliage and flowers. I know I fell for this trend when deciding to plant some dark purple Heucheras in my front yard next to some Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina). Bold colors and interesting foliage seemed to be on many gardener’s minds as the local nurseries lit up with chartreuse, burgundy, silver, and even black-colored plants. Sedges, Heucheras, Mondo Grass, and Sedums in every color were very popular. This trend will continue to change as it heads toward what I think will be a trend in 2020: the all-green garden. It is quite a bit different than the focus on bright foliage, but I think with all the wild and crazy times we’ve experienced over the last year gardeners are looking for a period of calm. The all-green garden is about tranquility and peacefulness. It’s about our gardens reflecting our desire to be back on an even keel. Expect to see nursery displays reflect this monochromatic trend in 2020.
Wow, 2019 was an amazing year! It always strikes me as impressive just how much has occurred over a single year in the garden. I hope you enjoyed revewiing (or learning about) some of the year’s hottest trends. I am excited to see what new and unexpected trends 2020 will bring us. Happy Gardening!