Photo courtesy of Petitti Garden Centers

As late-winter talk about COVID victory gardens circulated the country, customers at Petitti Garden Centers’ nine Northeast Ohio locations took to vegetable gardening. While some growers marketed ‘victory gardening,’ the Northeast Ohio operation took a more direct approach.

“In terms of the actual victory garden, it wasn’t a trend that we saw people rally around. It wasn’t a huge call to action in our area,” says President AJ Petitti. But vegetable gardening itself was a different story. “We picked up about 43% on herbs and veggies compared to last year,” he shares.

New gardeners account for much of that growth. “We picked up about a 27% increase in customer traffic in terms of transactions,” Petitti says. “Clearly, I think a lot of that was driven by a lot of new gardeners. I think existing gardeners did more because they had more time, but we definitely drew a lot of new customers. They got to experience our stores and our products for the first time. And I think that’s going to carry over, hopefully for years to come.”

Across the grower-retailer’s stores, no single category of edibles or non-edibles stands out. “In terms of variety, just everything went. Demand was just huge this year,” Petitti says. “We grow 90% of what we sell, so fortunately we were able to keep planting and keep producing all along. When everybody was struggling to get product, we were able to make sure we had a continual supply.”

Petitti reports that spring annuals and vegetables both started very strong and went hand-in-hand until mid-July. As vegetables quieted down — typical for summer — other categories stepped in. “But in fall, there [was] renewed interest in cole crops and fall veggies. Obviously, that’s not as strong as what it would be in spring, but it’s still strong,” he says.

Looking to 2021, Petitti expects a strong year. “I don’t see it being as strong as it was last year, so we’re taking our initial 2020 plan and we’re bumping that up,” he says. “I think it’d be really difficult for us to see it increase off of what we saw last year. That was kind of a Cinderella year.”

He advises IGC owners to plan carefully for 2021. “I think it’s really tempting to either go way short or way over in terms of planning — whether you’re buying or whether you’re growing,” he says. “Everybody picked up new customers and there was a great interest in gardening. But I don’t know what’s going to stick, especially as families get busier again, depending on what happens to schooling and activities and all that stuff. I think 2021 is still going to be really strong, but we’re in a little bit of a bubble right now.”

The author is a Minnesota-based freelance writer specializing in the horticulture industry. Reach her at jolene@jolenehansen.com.