Hurricanes and Horticulture


Talk to any nurseryman and they will tell you that the plant industry is in trouble. The recent hurricane activity assures us that plant prices are going to increase. You will also see less variety as nurserymen try to cut cost by growing best sellers. This trend of cutting cost has already been noted by many who claim droughts and flooding as a cause. Dealing with hurricane damage to our oil industry is even more concern as petroleum prices increase.

Plastics are made from petroleum products. Each plant is grown or transfered to a plastic pot called a liner.  Liners have increased in price over the past couple of years forcing plant prices to increase. Where plant prices did not increase cost, the grower sacrificed quality. The growing medium for most plants can be altered affecting the mature growth of a plant for the consumer. You pay either way. You make up the loss to the grower one way or the other.

The transport of plants will skyrocket as gas prices increase due to the interruption of oil production in the Gulf. The production and refining of oil could be at a stand still for an indefinite amount of time.

Growers can not cut cost further without raising the price and must result to growing less of what is not selling and more of what is popular. At the end of each season, they throw away healthy plants that did not sell. Records are kept determining the next season’s product line. This directly affects every aspect of the industry.

Retail nurseries will be hit the hardest. Many in NC closed due to a lack of buying by gardeners afraid of the drought. As every delivered good increases in price, plants go to the bottom of the priority list. Extra money is spent on the basic needs. Salaries will not increase to keep up with consumer products forcing us to tighten the belt on our spending.

As the bottom trickles up, growers feel the crunch. They must cut quality and/or prices to stay afloat. How will the face of small nurseries look next year, five years, or tomorrow. Who will decide to get out now as the hurricanes bear down on the Gulf of Mexico and the Louisiana coast.

This month is a make or break planning stage for many big growers. They have all but finalized next Spring’s inventory and selections. Some have sent out expensive catalogs with price sheets. Will they be able to keep the prices the same? Will they send out an amendment to those prices in anticipation of operating cost due to the probable extra dollars spent on plastic products? Many wholesale growers are pouring over catalogs making their list in anticipation of 2009 sales. Will wholesale growers back out on orders and force the hand of the big growers to cut cost further? So much is at stake right now as the hurricanes line up in the Atlantic.

What will you do? Will you pay more and keep buying your plants?

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Jan says:

    Good post, Anna. We don’t often think about how an incident far from our homes can affect us. I hate to think that the variety of plants available to gardeners may decrease because of price. I understand that a business has to survive, but maybe the plant nursery business needs to educate the public about using something besides the same old plants. There are many plants that will survive drought, etc. I think people would buy the less popular plants if they knew they would be successful in their gardens. When you see an unusual or different plant in a friend’s garden, you are thrilled when they share it with you because you know it will do well in your garden. I find it very frustrating to read about a plant, want it, and not be able to find it for sale. I think introducing to people new or unusual plants that would do well in their area would would go a long way to increasing business even with rising prices.
    Take care if any storms come your way.

    Always Growing

    *** Good ideas Jan. Your blog is one that promotes just what you are talking about. It’s not us garden bloggers who don’t know when and where to buy something—it’s those sweet young folk who are starting out in a cookie cutter neighborhood where the landscaper came in and gave them dried up plants with poorly amended soil.

    I use to see it time and time again. I tried to educate the people on taking the shrubs out and fixing the problem . Then I turned them toward plants with interest that would be drought tolerant but add curb appeal. I used many grasses. I’ve had whole neighborhoods come back and meet with me to undo the landscapers foul attempt at beauty. Those that didn’t follow my advice because my plan concentrated on soil the first year, their plants are puny at best–less curb appeal-and many plants are dead. We’ve been in a severe drought. With my plan, you water less and save more.

    Those who did follow my advice are reaping the rewards. When you have a proper condition for your plants, buy quality plant material that hasn’t been stressed, then the whole package affects how the industry is run. Landscapers are shooting themselves in the foot by contributing to the problem by taking short cuts. They are trying to make up the increase in cost too. That means the poor homeowner pays double.

    So there is room for improvement across the board from the soil to the research in new energy sources. I support the research behind new plant cultivars as they give you more for your money. I still know a lot of people who don’t know the difference between an old fashioned petunia and the new cultivars bred for non deadheading and longevity. I’ve got 3 growing and they haven’t needed an insecticide, very little watering for our conditions, and they have already doubled the recommended size and height.

    If you could buy a plant that would perform at twice the expectations of old fashioned petunias, wouldn’t you want that? Saves on all the pots out there full of plants that are going to give out. Saves on labor of replacing those plants mid summer. Saves on gas to go maintain them. Most towns and municipalities have switched over to using the new cultivars in their city planners due to the savings. The little town of Blowing Rock that I feature quite often has a hanging basket on every light pole and many public gardens. I would say that 90% of those gardens are full of cultivars.

    The answer to our petroleum dependence is rooted with each of us. We must make smart purchases and make our gardens work harder. There is plent of responsibility to go around. I accept that challenge. I do recycle my pots for my seedlings. I also use the pots to give plants to others as a gift.


  2. Karrita says:

    Hi Anna,
    Interesting truths you bring up that I hadn’t thought of. I imagine I won’t be buying as many plants as I have in the past with the prices going up. The good side of this may bring a grassroots kind of trading and sharing of seeds and cuttings to the die hard gardeners of the world who choose not to fork out the extra cash. I love sharing plants with others who are passionate about gardening. Wanita brought up a great idea in recycling pots back to the retailers, I have stacks of them saved for plant sharing and would happily give them back.

    Keep up the informative posts!

    *** Thank you Karrita and your idea has a lot of weight but it cost the grower more to take back the pots than to buy new ones. They have to pay man hours to clean and disinfect the pots before using. Biodegradable pots won’t hold up for the life of growing the plant to it’s retail size.

    I feel that we need new energy sources and to make us independent of foreign oil. I have a friend who works at Duke University as an algae scientist. So many plants and animals promise other fuel sources to ease the burden on petroleum products. New technology is on the horizon for the future of plastics. There is hope but we must work together on it.


  3. Barbee' says:

    Anna, that is a very good post. You present several slants on the situation that we may not have thought of ourselves. Good for you! Thank you.
    ** That’s a nice complement and I appreciate it. Those hurricanes are sure piled up in the Atlantic and it causes an unsteady market. It’s very hard for those who rely on petroleum products to know how to price merchandise for 2009. It’s like the foundation of their business can be ripped out from under them over night.


  4. In addition to reusing pots, growers should be looking for alternatives to plastic pots. We’re not going to have petroleum forever. We should be trying to save it for the important things, like Vaseline & shampoo. I stink at indoor seed starting, so I’ll just have to pay more to buy quality plants.

    ** Yep, we are kinda stuck with choices for pots. The biodegradable pots are more expensive and don’t hold up as well for the amount of time that growers need them to. They break down and don’t transport well to the retail shops. Vegetables grow well because they are sold before having much shelf life. I think if they grew the plants in multiple packs and lowered the price just a bit then people would go for that. I can think of several PW plants that I would buy in 6 packs. I have seen larger six packs that would be perfect. Buying something in a six pack saves more plastic than buying 6 larger plants in six different containers.


  5. Cinj says:

    I buy annuals every year no matter what. Now that my gardens are getting older I probably will lay off with the other plant buying but there’s only so much room anyway.

    I guess I had never thought of it the way you presented it. I hope that the hurricanes continue to spare the oil platforms too. I also think it would help them keep their costs lower if they encouraged their customers to bring back the pots so they can reuse them.

    ** Some places do recycle pots but there is a lot of work involved. You must clean the pots with a part clorox solution to make sure no bacteria or viruses are passed to the new plants.

    I wasn’t real happy with my pots this year. I am ready to dump things in the compost pile and add the pansies. I like to put Euphorbia for something tall, pansies for the bushyness, and heuchera for a texture interest. Seems like I do have some plant shopping to do.


  6. Wanita says:

    I will keep buying annuals since I always plant some containers. I also like annuals for continuous color in the perennial beds. However, depending on cost, I may not buy as many; but I enjoy my flowers so much, I can’t imagine not buying any at all.

    I now have perennials I can divide, and even some to share with friends, and I feel fortunate to be able to do that. I also have a neighbor who has shared some of her perennials with me, which is such a blessing!

    *** Annuals are the summer work horses. They fill in between perennial bloom times. I always get begonias and annual blue salvia. How nice that your neighbor shared from her garden. I consider that a gift from the heart.


  7. Gail says:

    I will be doing some belt tightening anyway and plants will have to be put lower on the list! Not off but lower! If a plant is one that will be easy to divide, I’ll by one and go for smaller! I have more plant material then I know what to do with already, it’s time to rearrange what I have! I have to get a few shrubs to replace the ones that croaked in the heat! Better ones for our climate, too. Hey, thanks for asking!

    ** You are so lucky to be able to divide from your surplus. Gardeners who know their plants and how to divide or propagate are in the best situation. I wish that was true for me, having new gardens during these times is expensive. Your gardens are beautiful and having more of it is just a real gift to all your blog viewers and neighbors.


  8. To answer your final question, I will continue to buy plants — how could I not? — but I may be more selective. I may buy smaller sizes. I may not experiment as much. Then again, I don’t have many expensive habits, so probably I will continue as always. Gardening returns so much joy and beauty for the money expended that a few extra dollars don’t matter much over the lifetime of a shrub, tree, or perennial.

    *** So true Judy, we really do get a lot of return for dollars spent. I had a 6 pack of begonias that is worth gold right now. And I’ve got some expensive Crepe Myrtles giving me a beautiful display of color. I will continue to buy plants also. I’ve been working all afternoon on plans to build my shed or as Debra Prinzing puts it, an Elegant Hideaway.


  9. linda says:

    The challenges for growers and independents have continued this year for sure Anna. The sluggish economy, and the real estate and foreclosure crises have added a new dimension to an already difficult situation. Every setback and cost increase makes it even more difficult. At least here this year, the independents didn’t have to contend with the 17-year cicadas, which drove everyone inside and away from their gardens. Last year was a horrible year here for small nurseries. Fortunately this year has been better, but still not great.

    I’ve never bought more plants than I have in the last few years since moving to this house and starting almost from scratch. Most of my previous gardens have consisted of a few purchases, and lots of seed-starting, plant and cuttings sharing, and dividing. Now with a good foundation I hope fewer plants will purchased and more acquired through more ‘traditional’ means.

    Hopefully the hurricane season will be less active following the current storms, and I hope you and yours, and your new home remain safe this hurricane season.

    *** Thank you so much and we don’t expect any problems. I don’t live in a flood plain or near the coast. But we have had some hurricanes that stayed together long enough to do considerable damage. Hugo, Camille, and a few others come to mind. It plays havoc on our stately oaks.

    You bring to mind other good points contributing to the plant industry. Our new little cookie cutter neighborhoods are landscaped with the same 5 plants. Those plants are dependable and landscapers are trying to leave out expensive ornamentals as they will dry up with our drought. Now if we get the new hurricane Ike or should we get the worse case scenario where Gustav, Hannah, and Ike( Just saw Josephine on the new Atlantic model) all meet up in NC at the same time—then we’ll see floods. It’s just not friendly times for plant lovers.


  10. Wonderful thoughts Anna, I never thought about the plants and the effect of the hurricane’s. We all think of oil, food and crops but I’ve never thought about the flowers or plants. I always pay more and keep buying plants, although one of these days I may try to grow my own :), yeah right! I am too impatient to plant seeds, I have tried but never have much success, we have such a short period to enjoy flowers and plants I just pay the price.

    I’m thinking about you as the next tropical storm is gearing up to head towards you, or so they say. How has the weather been for you? Did you get lots of rain from the storm that went up the east coast last time? I can’t imagine the winds and rain.

    Have a wonderful day today Anna!
    Kathi 🙂

    ** Thank you and yes, we did get lots of rain from Fay. If Hannah, which is behind Gustav, comes in at Savannah GA or the SC coastline, it can hold together as a hurricane and move my way. Most of the time, we just get the rain and winds of about 50 mph. We do worry about the spin off tordadoes.

    Looks like Gustav has spared the oil fields this time and that’s a good thing. But Ike is out there behind Hannah and no one knows about it yet.

    You do have a shorter growing season than we do. I can direct sow almost every kind of seed. The critters tend to eat them up. I think I’ll try and make some newspaper pots this year and sow early. The critters tend to leave plants alone if they get some size and good roots formed.


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