The Plant Shortage Crisis of 2021

by | Apr 7, 2021 | Arboriculture, Horticulture, Industry News, Plants

Marc Elliott is the CEO and Co-founder of GoMaterials, an online marketplace for sourcing plant materials for landscaping professionals.

Reasons for the Plant Shortage

COVID-19 unleashed a domino effect throughout the industry in 2020. Closures related to the pandemic halted operations across multiple types of businesses in the green industry. Nurseries and growing facilities that largely depended on foreign labor were severely impacted and continue to be restricted by the travel restrictions put in place. Additionally, since plug manufacturers were unable to produce expected amounts, plant vendors were unable to get their hands on plugs. Perennials specifically are in a short-term shortage for this reason. 

The next complication came in the form of increased plant demands. Purchasing surged when everyone was unexpectedly at home and spending more time renovating their backyards and living areas. As a result, the residential landscaping sector saw a mini-boom. Axios Marketing research confirms that this trend will increase in 2021. Stock has been flying off the shelves from nurseries and home gardening centers, and it won’t slow down any time soon.

Concurrent to the home gardening boom, cities upped their planting game as well. If we think back, our attention turned to climate change around the same time that the pandemic hit. Risk management to counter the negative effects of climate in urban environments became a prime concern for cities across the country. 

Then there was the recent devastation the cold wave in Texas and across the Southeast. The cold killed off many plants in nurseries around the South.

How Landscaping Businesses Are Handling Shortages 

Some within the industry are having a harder time with the plant shortage than others. Many landscapers are locked into contracts for postponed jobs from last season or for new jobs from this season. In the meantime, based on our own estimates, the prices are expected to go up by 10-15 percent in 2021 due to the demand-supply mismatch. Landscapers will unfortunately have to shoulder this price increase, eating into their bottom line. 

Nurseries are seeing growth, thanks to the sudden influx of demand in plants, and highly desirable stock is flying off their shelves. The caveat is that landscapers are struggling to find nurseries carrying plant materials the architects have requested. As a result, landscapers are developing closer relationships with the nurseries and architects to find alternatives that satisfy everyone. 

Another interesting trend to note is the increase in delivery costs. As certain varieties become rarer in local markets, plants are coming and going from farther away. Wholesalers, landscapers and clients alike gain from a broader reach in plant materials, but with a higher delivery cost. 

Our team noticed that a significant portion of landscapers in our network invested in project management software in 2020 or upgraded their technological systems. Plant shortages are forcing us to keep a closer eye on our profits, our inventory and our manpower. Software providers are sure to see growth as the industry looks for better management tools. With the increased urgency to get organized brought on by the plant shortages, I’m confident the trend to digitize will continue.

Strategies to Manage the Plant Shortages 

So, what can we do about the shortages? Here are a few recommendations:

  • Get organized. Book orders in advance and be ready to place a deposit when you reserve your plant materials. 
  • If you have not already started doing so, this is the perfect opportunity to fine-tune communication with your architects. Be flexible with specs this year. 
  • Expand your network of nurseries. A broker with connections outside of your location will expand your reach with little to no effort from your end. 
  • For nurseries, monitor your inventory closely to adjust stock. If you haven’t done so already, an investment in smarter inventory management software could help you stay ahead of demand trends and grow your business. 

I believe the plant shortage of 2021 will significantly impact every decision you make for your landscaping business. It sounds bleak, but we’ve been through cycles of oversupply and undersupply before. I remember a few years back Autumn Blaze Maples were so popular that they ended up on all contracts. As a result, many vendors filled up acres of space to fulfill that demand. Fast forward to today—there is a lot less demand for these maples, yet the stock is still sitting in many farms, occupying space that could be better utilized for something more in demand. If only trees could grow as fast as the landscaping trends move! 

The lag between supply and demand is hard until things balance out. But with more awareness comes more preparedness. We’re a hardy industry, and we can weather this storm, too.


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