Services and experiences will drive Christmas rather than product sales in the future, according to Garden Centre Association chairman Will Armitage.
Christmas departments are opening at garden centres nationwide before half term this month, with the trend towards more Santa workshops and tea parties rather than just grottoes, and integrating the category into other departments.
Armitage, managing director at Armitage's Home & Garden, said: "We're putting Christmas in now and not getting any 'good grief it's Christmas already' comment like we have in the past.
"We are using a little bit more space and involving other departments encompassing food and gifts rather than just the department on its own. In the past we've cleared furniture and inserted Christmas, but now it has a more centre-wide feel, which I'm seeing in a lot of garden centres."
LED pictures of snowy scenes have taken over from model villages as the latest gift product, he added. Garden centres have developed Christmas to the advantage of their staff, who no longer get laid off for the winter, which he said still happens in North American and Nordic garden centres.
The category has also levelled out seasonality in sales and December can be the second most lucrative month for centres, making up 20 per cent of overall sales at some.
Christmas remained "consistent" as the economy dipped and during varying weather, and while products such as fibreoptic trees have declined "there is scope to do more" with the season. "We're moving from rows of product to a more winter wonderland feel and introducing Santa's workshops and tea parties as variations to the grotto. Christmas has not reached the top yet. There's not more large amounts of money to be made but there's scope on how Christmas is offered."
Gardens Group director Louise Burks said Christmas is slightly bigger at her three centres. "Christmas is really vital. It drives our business from now until then." Linked sales of houseplants and gardening gifts are not always fully explored by garden centres, she added.
"We divert everyone back into houseplants so they have to walk through horticulture to go to the tills. At Christmas there's a lot of people who don't visit your garden centre at other times of the year so it's good to remind them you do gardening so they come back in spring and other times of the year.
"This year, as well as the usual displays, Gardens Group has a display of clocks all set at 11.55pm on New Year's Eve.
Christmas offer Wyevale ranges revealed
Wyevale launched its first Christmas showcase this summer. It will stock 70,000 Christmas trees from Ireland and poinsettias from the UK.
Wyevale's Christmas offer features top-end Flora Botanica ranges at 16 "A" centres with a Rio opulent theme. A £3,699 crystal LED tree will be for sale, but LED reindeers from £14.99, outdoor lights at £49.99 for 10m, a £4.99 decanter and reindeer foot massager at £24.99 are more likely to be the most popular sellers. Its Crystal Queen range is at 48 centres, including a star item "bling" hedgehog at £14.99. Ranges at all garden centres include Fairy Forest and Enchanted Forest.
Dobbies has launched its programme of Christmas events, offering demonstrations, live music and seasonal refreshments "to help ease them into the festive season" and raise £100,000 for charity.