Opportunities to grow in CPP horticulture industry at Home Depot Spring Trials

By Lann Nuguyen, March 12, 2024

Home Depot held its annual Spring Trials at AGRIscapes next to the Farm Store at Cal Poly Pomona Tuesday, March 5 through Thursday, March 7. The multi-day event highlights tents showcasing plant breeders resembling a fashion show for plants.

Presentations by expert speakers, plant breeders, head growers, and horticulture industry leaders took place each day, featuring opportunities for paid internships in the horticulture industry.

The event takes place steps away from the classrooms in the greenhouses for plant science students. It serves to connect leaders in the industry to future generations as a multi-beneficial resource for both parties. Along with exposure to the industry, students see how plant buyers and breeders’ market, sell and work together to create the product that goes to the consumer.

“This opportunity meets our standards for student career readiness skills and allows professionals in the industry to learn about what programs we offer,” said Eileen Cullen, department chair and professor of the Plant Science Department.

Professor Emerita Valerie Mellano was instrumental in establishing the Spring Trials at CPP. Jennifar McComish, senior live goods merchant of the southern division for Home Depot, worked with Mellano to bring this event to fruition.

McComish’s job entails buying $1 billion worth of plants annually, sending them through test trials looking for disease-resistance, photogenic qualities, and “unicorns,” that are plants able to grow in every climate.

“I scour the world for plants” said McComish.

The plant business has many moving parts which fuels Home Depot’s global sales of garden products of nearly $15 million per year as of 2022, according to statista.com. Several employees of Home Depot and partners have plant science backgrounds but many of the skills required to make the business successful require marketing expertise, business degrees and sales knowledge.

“I will continue to shout this from the rooftop that customers need to be happy to come back and buy our products,” said McComish. “The judge and jury are consumers and that’s why seeing all aspects of this business is so important for students.”

Students were encouraged to engage with the experts attending the Spring Trials to discuss internship opportunities and ask questions. An emphasis was placed on explaining the vast details that go into curating the plants that fill Home Depot’s shelves.

Students from Eileen Cullen’s professional development class took a VIP tour with Jennifar Mccomish, the live goods genetic captain merchant for Home Depot to learn more about the horticulture industry. | Lann Nguyen The Poly Post
Students from Eileen Cullen’s professional development class took a VIP tour with Jennifar Mccomish, the live goods genetic captain merchant for Home Depot to learn more about the horticulture industry. | Lann Nguyen The Poly Post

Classic Home & Garden, stationed in Shelton, Connecticut, works with Home Depot to follow plant fashion trends. This gives consumers what they are seeking by sending a group of designers including Stacey Noble to Paris. She is in charge of matching colors of plants and pots to different regions that are aesthetically pleasing and popular in different areas. Overall, the entire design and layout of the plants are strategically curated in order to appeal to consumers.

“The importance of attending these Spring Trials means we get to see what’s going to be in the market in the next couple of years to try and plan the promotions and containers accordingly,” said Fred Ryan, owner of Classic Home & Garden.

CHG’s new line focuses on water conservation, eco-friendly products and packaging, and optimized transport. The patented Hydroplanter and Hydrowick by CHG are designed to help the customer water less while providing optimal nourishment for the plant.

Season extension is one of the main goals in genetically ensuring plants can flourish all year long.

Basil plants have several different breeds and Ball Horticultural Company, the leading plant breeding researcher and development has discovered how to create more surface level of more leaves that will make the plant more usable and produce more output of pesto.

Proven Winner’s latest technology produces plants that can go up to two months without constant watering. | Lann Nguyen The Poly Post

Impatiens walleriana have various uses apart from being a beautiful addition to one’s home garden. They are used to treat insect bites and bee stings, poison ivy, athlete’s foot, and dandruff.

Bailey Nurseries, a plant breeder company that specializes in bare roots utilizes solar power to breed better plants then those grown from the sun according to McComish. A highlight of the Spring Trials showcase line includes hydrangeas that will bloom far past summer with effective and compact reblooming genetic design.

The competition for plants and flowers is steep. In order to keep the genetic makeup a secret, McComish must adhere to high standards of secrecy when going through the process of picking the best colors, combinations, and design of plants.

“We actually took this plant from Sakata that we knew was super special and now every year I have the opportunity to go to Athens, Georgia, crawl through a fence with the crazy donkeys and some cattle to somebody’s backyard,” said McComish. “I don’t know whose property it is, but there’s security cameras everywhere and I go through the fields picking out this year’s color for our line.”

The most recent color is blue-eyed rose which is one of the colors the Home Depot does not have yet in stores. The process for determining which combinations of flowers and colors is available is strategic and streamlined to set them up for success for next year.

The Spring Trials featured knowledgeable staff from leading companies and made connecting with them easy by implementing QR codes for sharing contact information with students.

“Everyone I’ve talked to has been super transparent about their internship opportunities, experience in the field and gave me great advice,” said Angelina Valencia, an agricultural science student.

All plants and flowers used for the multi-day exhibit will be donated to CPP. To learn more about the Plant Science Department’s program visit its website.

AGRIscapes at Cal Poly Pomona is home to annual events such as the Pumpkin Fest in October and the Egg Hunt & Spring Fun on the Farm on March 23. To reserve a spot visit AGRIscapes’ website.

Feature image courtesy of Lann Nguyen.

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