Poinsettia trends: red & beyond

Read one of my latest articles published in Greenhouse Management magazine:

http://www.greenhousemag.com/article/poinsettia-trends-red–beyond/

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Are you telling your story? Ten topics to write about

 

An orchid grower I talked with recently told me about how she gave up teaching at a major university to go into the orchid business. She says it started out as a six week stint between teaching gigs, helping the 78 year-old owner of the business with the daily chores of caring for and selling orchids. Two weeks later the man offered to sell her the business and she took him up on it.  

Stories like this one can make you more endearing to your customers. If you’re a landscaper, greenhouse grower, or other green industry business you need to start telling your story, if you’re not already doing so.

Why? Because people like to hear a good story. Also, it’s the wave of the future when it comes to marketing. It’s part of the content marketing approach that seeks to attract customers, rather than interrupt them with in-your-face type of ads you see on television and other media.  In fact, recent research indicates that two thirds of marketers think branded content is superior to PR, direct mail, and print advertising.  

So what type of story do you tell? You can look at some of the big companies to see what type of stories they’re telling. For instance, Coca-Cola is talking about more than just soft drinks. They tell stories about how they’re helping veterans find jobs, how they’re promoting healthy lifestyles, and an “inside look” at a Coca-Cola sponsored game to help fight AIDS.

Choose your media

Your stories can be told on your blog, Facebook Page, YouTube channel digital newsletter, or print media. Here are 10 suggestions for stories you can tell your readers.

  1. The details of an event you had at your business and/or a special visitor. One story I recall from an interview I did had to do with a popular cook that showed up for a one day demonstration on the delicious things you can make with blueberries.
  2. Tell how your company participated in a local fundraiser, perhaps by donating some flowers and/or your time.
  3. Have you found new ways to use less resources, save money and help protect the environment? Don’t be shy, let’s hear about it.
  4. Employee stories. Have you ever hired a military veteran, future pro baseball player, or other interesting person? Tell their story.
  5. Do you have a plant breeding program? People will be interested in how their favorite plants came to be.
  6. Have you overcome adversity lately? This could be springing back from an illness, flood, tornado or some other calamity. It might be tough being so open, but people will probably relate to your story.  
  7. Your rags to riches story. Did you start out selling plants off a wagon, or with a wheelbarrow and pickup truck? We’d like to hear about it.
  8. Are you trying new things? One company I wrote about, Gotham Greens, is trying out rooftop growing for restaurants and other outlets.
  9. How about the holidays? Are you getting involved in charitable giving? A local event? It’s all fodder for a good story.
  10. Are you doing business in other countries? Attended shows abroad? You must have some good stories to tell, about the trip, the culture, the people, the event.

Five tips for telling a good story:

  1. Learn from others. Read stories other people are telling that seem to be of interest to readers and try to replicate them. If you don’t have a good writer on staff, hire one and write it off as a marketing expense.
  2. Use emotion. Emotion is what really draws people into a story. Not every story is going to have an emotional appeal, but some will, like holding a fundraiser for someone diagnosed with cancer.
  3. Keep it simple. A good story doesn’t have to be a dissertation. Try to get to the heart of the story fairly quickly.
  4. Be honest, authentic. In one story I wrote about a summer camp I attended with my daughters I had to come clean about my own insecurities spending a few days with strangers.
  5. Make it shareable. This might be the hardest thing. However, if you’ve told a good story, people will want to hit the share button!

 

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Why you need a white paper and a really cool infographic

 

Do you have a big ticket item to sell or want to introduce a new product to the market? Or perhaps you have an item that is simply too complex to summarize in a magazine ad?

If you said yes to any of these questions, you need a white paper.

Selling big ticket items such as greenhouses, fogging systems, fertilizers and software to growers in the green industry and especially the emerging cannabis market can be a challenge. The competition is stiff and it can be hard to reach potential buyers in a really meaningful way. Advertisements in magazines can be effective as can displays and demonstrations at trade shows.

But if you don’t have a detailed white paper for potential buyers you could be missing out on potential sales. Growers in this market are savvy entrepreneurs who want to be well informed before committing to a new product or making a large purchase that may require they see a banker.

Here is where a white paper comes in. A white paper is a detailed description of a product that that goes far beyond a quarter page ad in a magazine. Information for a white paper draws from everyone in your company, from engineers to sales persons. A copywriter worth his salt will write one in such a way as to not to be a hard sell, but rather a gentle nudge to potential buyers, via persuasive writing, to purchase the product based on the features and benefits presented.

So when do you need a white paper? Use a white paper to promote products that are:

  • New to the market: (e.g., a pesticide, fertilizer, software system)  
  • Complex, has to be explained (e.g., scanning systems, security software, climate control systems)
  • Expensive, has to be justified (e.g., greenhouses, skids steers, LED lighting, automatic trimmers)

White papers are the true work horses in the advertising world, providing highly detailed information of a product so buyers can make an informed decision. They’re more cost effective than ads that may run one time in a magazine or on television. Once created, white papers can not only be embedded on your website, but moved about via social media, sent to potential buyers, bloggers and even freelance writers writing for trade magazines, such as Cannabis Business Times. They can also be re-purposed for blog posts, newsletters and press releases.

However, white papers don’t need to spend all their time online. Hard copies, with stellar graphics and illustrations, can be taken to trade shows and handed out to potential buyers. Potential buyers like them because they can be shared with  CEO’s, line staff and procurement before making a significant investment in the product.

If you’re interested in adding a white paper to your marketing program I can send you a free infographic (from the book White Papers for Dummies) that further highlights the benefits of a white paper and what they’re all about, written by a person who is considered in this field to be the go-to guy on white papers, Gordon Graham, aka “That White Paper Guy.”

Speaking of “That White Paper Guy,” I’ve recently teamed up with Mr. Graham to assist cannabis suppliers like yourself in selling your products. His depth of knowledge of white papers (he’s written close to 250 of these things!) and marketing and my extensive background in horticulture and copywriting is providing the 1-2 punch to help businesses like yours improve their bottom line in a big way. Together we can provide you with a targeted white paper and insider marketing tips to get these documents in front of your target audience. You can then sit back and watch more orders come in for your product.

If you would like to learn more about our services and pricing and/or want a free pdf file of the infograph, contact me via email or give me a call at 906-322-4264. We expect demand to be great for this service so contact me as soon as possible so we can get started.

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Pack a punch with a good lead

When it comes to writing a good blog post or article It seems like all the emphasis these days is on creating a snappy headline that will pull a reader into an article. While an effective headline is important to grab a reader’s attention, a great headline without an equally great lead is like putting whip cream topping over a stale apple pie.ext

The lead of a story has to pack enough of a punch to entice busy people to keep reading. This applies to any type of article–from one explaining the virtues of a particular potting soil, to one reporting on a breaking news story that will make national headlines..

So where do you find the lead? You should be able to find it in your research, the notes you’ve taken during an interview, or an event you’ve attended. If you don’t find it in your research and/or notes, go ahead and write the article first and then read through it. What you’re looking for is information that will answer the proverbial question, “what’s in this for me?”

In many instances you will need to use your imagination a little to spice up the lead to what might not be a particularly exciting topic. Consider this lead I did for an article for a horticulture trade magazine on utility vehicles, the ones used by lawn care and landscaping professionals:

“With more uses than a Swiss army knife and the versatility of a moon rover, utility vehicles (UTVs) are gaining popularity with landscape contractors wishing to improve efficiency, reduce labor, and make things safer for their employees. If you’re hesitant about making the 10K investment in a rugged UTV you may wish to hear what two landscapers have to say about their coveted UTVs.”

In one paragraph I was able to say that UTV’s are versatile and  popular with landscapers because they save money and make the workplace safer, two hot button issues with the readers of this trade magazine  I also addressed what could be hesitation on the part of the reader to make the investment and tried to entice them to read on to hear what two landscapers had to say about their UTV investment.

Another example would be attending an event. People in the green industry are always attending trade shows. If you’re writing about a trade show you attended, even in a short blog post, try to highlight the most important and useful news and information that came out of the event. Sure, it might have been a whiz bang event where you got to network with a lot of different people and perhaps even had a great dinner, but what will your readers want to know about the event? Try to find that golden nugget from the event; for example a new breed of plant that’s about to take the industry by storm.

Not all leads are alike, though. A lot will depend on the type of article you’re writing. Here are three types of leads, that if done right, will draw a reader into your article.

  1. Declare what the article is going to be about while summarizing the most important points.  This is a typical lead used in journalism and should read like this:

“Profits are up in the landscaping business for the first time since 2008, spurred on by marketing efforts directed at younger shoppers and an overall improvement in the housing market.”

Notice how much information is given in a short paragraph. This type of lead should draw readers in who want to find out the facts and figures that support such a statement.

  1. Describe a setting that will gently draw readers in while introducing the topic or making a point.  For instance, in another article I used the lead to tell a brief story that served to introduce the article and make a point about succession planting:

“When the farmer’s market comes to a close on Saturday in Saratoga Springs, Sandy and Paul Arnold of Pleasant Valley Farm, give a call to a local restaurant to see if the chef wants to buy what they have left over. They supply the farmer’s market and local restaurants for at least 10 months out of the year, thanks to the succession planting they’ve been practicing the last 28 years on their farm in Argyle, New York.”

  1. Provide enough information to entice readers to read on by gleaming the most interesting elements of an event, such as a trade show. This type of lead is different from the ones above because you have to dig a little deeper to find interesting and useful information. It’s one that can be used with B2B type articles, like in trade journals. So you could say something like:

“The 4th annual AG Today conference featured plants that talk back, a driverless tractor, and new varieties of vegetables that don’t need watering.”

This type of lead demands an explanation, which people will look for in the coming paragraphs.

While headlines are important, you don’t want to drop the ball by offering a lukewarm lead. Experiment until you find the lead that’s right, then hit them with the one-two punch.

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How to Garden with Comfort, Ease and Simplicity in the Second Half of Life

Gardening as we get older can be a little more challenging, but no less enjoyable. At least that’s the premise of a smart little book called, Late Bloomer: How to Garden with Comfort, Ease and Simplicity in the Second Half of Life, by Jan Coppola Bills. Bills offers us older folks inspiration and practical advice for gardening in our later years. It’s more about adjusting our perspective on gardening than it is on finding adaptive tools and equipment to make the job easier, although she does offer a few tips on the latter as well.

Bills says if there is a Late Bloomer’s credo it would go, in part like this:

  • I will plant only what I can comfortably tend.
  • I will not give myself tasks beyond my ability to easily achieve.
  • I will ask for help, if necessary.

Instead of a drive for completion and conquering nature, Bills suggests we discover a “deeply soul-pleasing way of gardening.” The author defines her perspective of gardening, which borders on the spiritual, with these words: “simplicity, beauty and harmony, comfort and ease, celebrating life with food from your soil, and relaxation and letting go.” The latter directive may be hard for many of us who have lived a life defined by how much we can pack into an 8 hour day.

Bills, who runs a landscaping firm in southeast Michigan called “Two Women and a Hoe,” asks us first and foremost to garden in such a way that is both sustainable and manageable. We can enjoy gardening more if we practice a “right plant right place” philosophy that encourages the gardener to find the appropriate place for a plant so that it thrives in that location without having to be moved later because it was planted too close to the house or requires a lot of maintenance in terms of fertilizing, watering and pruning.

In Bills’ garden butterflies flutter about and beneficial insects help create an ecological balance that eliminates the need to use chemical insecticides. An added bonus: she can enjoy the comings and goings of these critters from a peaceful perch of her own choosing. The author believes in sustainable gardening that doesn’t require any chemical inputs, conserves resources while reducing the amount of work required to maintain a garden.

Proper watering will conserve this precious resource while saving on your water bill. Weeds and weeding can be reduced or eliminated by planting a full garden bed with flowers and shrubs. And those leaves that we spend so much time raking up or blowing away with a noisy leaf blower? Leave them for beneficial insects to burrow in over the winter and to break down and become rich humus for our plants. And how about that lawn that needs regular mowing and a lot of maintenance and chemical inputs? Let’s just say you can grow a lot of flowers and vegetables in this space!

The right tools will make gardening a little easier and more enjoyable and Bills offers up her favorites, including a good set of pruners, tine steel rake and loppers. A mini-D-handle shovel allows a person to get on their hands and knees to dig a shallow hole for planting, rather than working from a bending over position that is hard on the back. This is something I can appreciate as I tend to stiffen up when working from a slightly bent over position. A good set of knee pads are essential for those knees that “ain’t what they used to be.”

Recycling treasures from the past

In the second half of life most of us have accumulated enough stuff to fill up a football stadium. These items can become recycled art and used as part of an overall garden design: no need to buy more stuff. Bills keeps these forgotten treasures–potential art–out of landfills by recycling them and finding the appropriate place for them among the plants. In fact, she enjoys posting pictures online of her latest find.

Knowledge is power

Gardening, like any endeavor, requires a certain degree of knowledge to do it right. Bills provides the information gardeners need in this compact volume to be a successful gardener. She covers all of the basics of gardening, from plant selection to shade gardening. She also generously shares her experience as a landscape professional, admonishing the reader to choose healthy plants for your appropriate hardiness zone. The 6 basic design tips presented in the book will help the reader put together a garden that is both functional and appealing to the eye. She presents this information in a way that is easy to understand with color photos to illustrate.

Bills was inspired to garden and start her garden business after her brother Michael died. His untimely death provided a lot of the perspective she now has for gardening and life in general. She says after her brother died she replaced her corporate high heels for Wellies and never looked back.

Late Bloomer, like the magazine you’re reading, helps us find that perspective we need to live well in our second half of life, in and out of the garden.

Neil Moran is a freelance garden writer and blogger.

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Words and phrases that should rightfully be banned

Every year since 1976 Lake Superior State University, my alma mater, has published  a list of banned words and phrases, sent in from people from around the world, that are misleading, misused or simply worn out. Many of these words and phrases get into business marketing and apparently others adopt them to try to sound like they really get it. After awhile everyone is starting a sentence out with “So”…, or ending one with “I’m just saying,” both intended to convey the impression that the speaker has the final word on something.

Unfortunately, some of these words and phrases actually detract, in my opinion, from the actual substance of the message. One of my pet peeve phrases is “moving forward,” which I think is a little vague. Perhaps it would be better to say “in the future” this is the way we’re going to approach this subject. Or better yet, next week we’re going to get to work on this.

So, I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon of “iconic” phrases. In fact, moving forward I’ll try not to be so critical…I’m just saying. I find a little amusement and hope for the Queen’s English after reading this tome’.

Have a Happy New Year!

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Grow your profits with white papers for the green industry

Learn why you should consider using white papers in your marketing and what it takes to write one

Are you selling pricey items to green industry businesses like landscapers, greenhouse growers, nurseries or garden centers? Do you have a white paper to explain some of these products?

If not, you’re missing one of the most cost-effective ways to generate leads, nurture prospects, and close sales.

A white paper is different from an ad, flyer, or web page that merely sells a product. A white paper is a 6- to 8-page document that uses facts and logic to explain a B2B product or service. Buyers read them to keep up with the industry and research the details of a big-ticket item they’re considering.

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Photo courtesy of Stano Landscaping

Items worthy of a white paper represent a sizable investment for these companies and include things like the latest UTV’s, skid steers, greenhouses, automated trimmers, fertilizer injection systems and tracking software.

How can you tell whether your business could profit from a white paper? Ask yourself these questions: are you selling something relatively new, relatively complex, or relatively expensive? If you answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, you can likely benefit from a white paper.

White papers may also be used to detail products that would represent a significant change (and a sizable investment) in operations for a green industry business, such as switching to a different fungicide, fertilizer, growing medium, or even a new type of growing container.  

“No other marketing tactic works as hard or lasts as long as a white paper,” declares Gordon Graham, a copywriter who has specialized in this format since 2005. “Unlike the short lifespan of an ad in a magazine or on TV, a white paper can be embedded in your website, where it remains available for prospective buyers around the clock for several years.”

White papers don’t have to stay on a website and collect dust: they can be distributed by e-mail, around the internet, and to your targeted audience via social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. They can also be sent to a printer so you have them to offer at trade shows and conferences.

And a white paper is fairly easy to recycle into other forms: a press release, blog posts, opinion piece for an industry journal, slide deck, presentation or speech.

White papers need not  be dull affairs. The writing can be lively and studded with facts and quotes, just like a magazine article. These documents can be produced by a graphic designer who gives them a slick look, with your company logo, colorful graphics, and product photos.

The Essence of a White paper

White papers are for informational purposes only and are not a sales letter, advertisement, sales pitch, or case study. If there is any hint of a sales pitch in a white paper it may actually have a negative effect on the prospective buyer. An effective white paper walks a thin line, making a persuasive argument to sell a product, service, or solution without actually making a sales pitch to buy the item.photo-1438262267532-2db13fcceca2

At the top of the sales funnel, a white paper can draw in fresh prospects interested in your product and prepare them to take the next step in the sales process.

If you think it may be hard to stay impartial when writing a white paper, or you might be unduly pressured by your superiors, you can farm it out to a professional copywriter who can remain more impartial. A copywriter experienced in writing white papers knows the ins and outs of producing and marketing a white paper.

There are three approaches to creating a white paper, as explained by Graham in his easy-to-understand book, called (you guessed it!) White Papers for Dummies.

The backgrounder

This is a cut-and-dry description of a product. It details the benefits of the product, such as using a UTV to save labor costs. Features, such as carrying space, size of tires, and horsepower would be covered in a pretty matter-of-fact way with only a hint of persuasion. A backgrounder for a greenhouse would delve deep into its construction, including the bows and purlins, covering, heaters, and fans. Likewise, a backgrounder for an automated trimmer for cannabis growers would detail the strength of the blade and specs of the motor and other moving parts.

The numbered list

A numbered list is just what it suggests: a list of points, tips or questions about some issue or product. A green industry white paper of this type could list the features of a piece of equipment, such as a skid steer. Or it could list the pros and cons of using a fungicide or insecticide on a particular plant or crop. A numbered list is easy for a reader to skim through, catching the most important details in an accessible way. A numbered list is best for nurturing existing prospects, or simply generating noise and getting your company recognized. The only shortcoming: a numbered list may lack the deep details the reader is looking for, details those folks in procurement want to see before making a recommendation.

The problem/solution

A problem/solution white paper shows how a green industry business can solve a common problem. For instance, if accurately scanning shipping carts has become a problem, this type of white paper can describe the problem and then detail how their software provides the solution. Or perhaps there is a new insect in the environment that is hard to control, such as the emerald ash borer. This type of white paper could detail how a new trunk injection product can eradicate this insect.

A problem/solution white paper is best for generating fresh leads.

What is takes to write a white paper

There are three stages of putting together an effective white paper: Planning, production, and promotion.

Your own marketing team should handle the first and last stages. The middle stage is where the research is assembled, the content is written, and the final document is produced. This stage is often outsourced to a professional writer who can work without  “writer’s block” or procrastination, and can avoid the most common pitfalls in these complex projects.

To succeed, every stage takes cooperation and collaboration. The challenge is to get everyone on board to offer their expertise. This could include engineers, product managers, and sales reps working in the field. A professional writer will help facilitate this collaboration.

There is no set page count for a white paper, although most contain 6 to 8 pages of content, plus front and back matter like the cover, table of contents, conclusions, about the company, and sources that can push them to 10 or 12 pages.

The important thing is to include all of the pertinent information the potential buyer needs to make their decision.

A white paper can contain photos, charts and graphs. Because the product you’re selling represents a sizable investment for your buyer (you’re not just selling a few shovels) many prospects will be willing to spend time reading a fairly lengthy white paper.

Bottom line? A white paper is a hardworking, cost effective way to introduce new and/or pricey products to green industry businesses.

Stats: White papers are the favorite source for 64 percent of B2B buyers during the early stages of decision making, higher than any other type of marketing collateral.–Sirius Decision, 2010.

Neil Moran is a freelance writer/copywriter for the green industry and a graduate in horticulture from the University of Guelph.  To grow your profits with a white paper or other written communication contact him at 906-322-4264, via email at nrmoran188@gmail.com , or fill out a contact form on his website.

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GardenFrames offer elegance, ease of assembly for raised beds

I love plants and can grow about anything. I even know the botanical names of things like a birch tree (Betula) and plants in the cabbage family (Brassicas). However, when it comes to carpentry, I’m the gardening equivalent of a brown thumb.

That’s why I’m excited about a great new product for gardeners that is looking for Kickstarter type funding so it can begin making it’s way to shopping carts online and eventually to garden centers around the country. It’s a line of garden frames that will help me and other gardeners construct raised bed gardens without having to be a jack of all trades.

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Choose the height you want. The sides can be purchased at any hardware store.

The GardenFrame™ consists of steel corners that are used to assemble raised bed gardens. You won’t find these corner frames at a hardware store. They’re elegantly designed so they’re both aesthetically pleasing and practical. They come in two different designs and are constructed of the same cold steel used in making automobiles.

Garden frames for raised bed gardening

Elegant designs make GardenFrames attractive as well as practical

“I think gardeners will love the GardenFrame because it is elegant and functional and allows anyone to build their own GardenFrame creation anywhere with ease and style,”says Dr. Scott Kachlany, inventor and co-founder of Gardinnovations, a firm out of New Jersey.

GardenFrames can be customized to fit any space, in a front or back yard, patio, porch, or even a balcony in the city. They also allow your raised bed garden to be from 10 inches to 2 feet tall using their Grow Higher kit. The sides can consist of non-chemically treated lumber sold in most hardware stores.

garden frame, raised bed gardens

Easy assembly, no special tools required.

“You can  customize the size of your garden to fit your space, whether it is an outdoor garden, patio, porch, balcony, or even indoors, says Kachlany. “The GardenFrame is especially practical for urban garden spaces.”

Check out their pre-launch for the GardenFrame™on Prefundia.com. and enjoy a tour of their page which includes several pictures, product specifications, and Kickstarter launch details. Kachlany says comments and feedback are welcome.

Neil Moran is a horticulturist, freelance writer, and garden blogger.

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Hardy ornamental grasses for the northern region

I’ve always been a little jealous of the folks in warmer climates who have the tall, flowing ornamental grasses growing in their yards. Here in the zone 4 region, tall, hardy ornamental grasses are hard to come by. Some do well for a few seasons, but eventually succumb to the elements. I’m assuming they were zone 5 grasses

Recently I discovered a couple of tall ornamental grasses that should be able to handle our tough winters.  

One of the new zone 4 ornamental grasses I ran across actually has a familiar name: miscanthus. What’s new about this one is the fact that it is hardy. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Little Miss’ grows 2-3 feet tall. I haven’t tried growing it yet, but sellers describe it as a plant with “narrow arching foliage” that emerges green in spring and then develops “carmine and purple tones” from early May with strongest coloring in October and November. Clumping centers remain fresh green for a two-tone effect. The flower heads are striking as well, reddish in color from July to October for a long season of interest.

Miscanthus 'Litttle Miss'

Photo courtesy of PlantHaven International, Inc.

“Little Miss’ is also considered easy to care for and drought tolerant. It’s suitable for a large container or can be grown in a landscape up near a home or iin an island bed. Sounds like a lot of bang for the buck, plus it’s hardy to the area! Pinch me, I must be dreaming.  

As of this writing there are 4 nurseries licensed to propagate ‘Little Miss:’

Briggs Nursery

Emerald Coast Growers

EuroAmerican Propagators

JRT Nurseries
Another ornamental grass that should make its way to northern gardens is a variation of a native little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Standing Ovation,’ offered by North Creek Nurseries. Besides being hardy down to -30, it will do well in  poor, dry soils, perhaps in those areas close to the lake shore where native beach grasses tend to thrive. ‘Standing Ovation’ has spiky bluish-green stems that look attractive all summer.

photo of little blue stem

Photo courtesy of North Creek Nurseries

‘Standing Ovation will also add autumn interest when it transitions to a eye popping display of oranges, reds, yellows, and purplish-browns. The seed heads swaying in the wind will provide winter interest before being cut back in spring. Don’t let the name fool you, this little stem variety grows 3-4 foot tall on sturdy stems. The seasonal color changes is nothing short of spectacular, which will add a richness to your landscape and flower bed.

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