Southern Nursery Braces for the Future
“Everything this year has been a challenge. Whether due to the freeze, supply chain, or unprecedented demand, I just can’t produce quality plants any faster.”
This is the reality for nursery growers across the south.
The aftershocks of events in 2020 and 2021 have drastically reduced plant supply and nurseries are scrambling to restock and fill massive orders. In the growing business though, things aren’t produced overnight, or even within a few years.
People wanting quality plant products must accept — they just have to wait.
Todd Carnley is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Flowerwood Nursery in Loxley, Alabama.
He oversees sales across Flowerwood’s six locations in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, and sells to the southeastern U.S. independent nurseries, re-wholesalers, and landscape companies.
Flowerwood employs roughly 650 people, including members of its own private shipping fleet.
The group also partners with several widely known brands to bring unique products to the market.
Things like the Encore Azalea brand, Southern Living Plant Collection, Endless Summer Hydrangeas, and Knockout Family of Roses.
Flowerwood works closely with Plant Development Services, Inc (PDSI).
PDSI facilitates research on various plant species, finding positive and negative genetics and combining them to breed new hybrids.
The goal is to create products that make life easier on the landscape company or homeowner maintaining them.
“We look at issues that come up in a typical garden or landscape and try to solve those issues by crossbreeding desirable characteristics that we already know work well.
We want it to grow to a manageable size, or with a certain color, or ability to bloom multiple times during the season.”
Plants used in crossbreeding are typically ones that have existed in the market for a long period of time.
They use species that are already acclimated to certain climates and have proven they can grow and thrive.
PDSI’s research partners spend years testing numerous formulas until finding the right combinations, then determining what plants can propagate and have commercial value.
Whether it is a classic plant or a newly developed design, there is one thing all of Flowerwood’s products have in common.
They are hard to come by. Todd says it takes about a year to produce just a one-gallon plant, and several years to grow anything larger.
Order volume picked up in 2020, when roughly 20 million new gardeners flooded the market.
Flowerwood began pulling products forward, selling things in spring that are typically held until fall.
They planned to make up for the losses the following spring, until the freeze in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
Now they are preparing for what will come in the next few years, unsure if the demand will stay high or level off by the time new production is ready.
“A nursery can’t just go out and produce plants just ‘in case’ someone wants them next season. When we plant something, we must make sure that we have a customer on the other end. Overproducing is how nurseries go bankrupt.”
85% of 2020’s new gardeners are expected to stay with the hobby, so the demand may stay higher than it was before the pandemic.
Todd does expect it to slow down some though. That is, if the weather cooperates.
“The nursery business is not an easy business.
You deal with a lot of mother nature, and a lot of events that you can’t control.
I do not think plant demand will be at the levels it was during the pandemic, but it is unclear what 2022 will hold.
We just have to wait and hope that things will balance out in time.”