SO FAR THIS SPRING HAS been just about perfect. The temperature has been pleasant; it is staying nice and cool in the evenings. The rains are falling in a normal amount and as far as a nursery man wishes for, the rains have mostly been coming at night so we are able to have big days at the garden center. Most plants that were permanently damaged by the ice storm have exposed themselves so its getting easier to make a plan as far as replacing plants and the domino of things that have to happen to make those changes.
It’s at this point that we are beginning to notice the change in this year’s garden supply. Just like hand sanitizer and toilet paper about a year ago the shortages are clobbering our industry. We will have to be patient this year, there are shortages in all of our categories. Starting with one of our most important categories, soil, is in very short supply.
We have been using Sun Gro potting soil for 25 years and I’ve been writing about this wonderful soil mix that we grow our bedding plants in so everyone will know about this wonderful soil. We can’t get any more, and we found out the hard way. We considered our 12 truckloads of it being preordered back in January should do the trick as every other year. We got two of the truckloads in then they just stopped coming with some lame excuses for where the next trucks were. Try to imagine running a greenhouse facility with no soil. We had to make some quick decisions.
We had to sample some new soils that for some reason were stockpiled. Switching soil in midstream is a scary thing for a grower. The Ph could be slightly different, enough to have an effect on the young seedlings. The water holding capacity will most likely be different, meaning the new soil may have lots more peat or a lot less making our grower change his patterns and timing completely.
We can change but we like a little time and space to do some experimenting. This year has left us no choice but to move forward with a soil that seemed similar to the soil we are used to. So far we have found no new problems except now I am hearing that this supply wasn’t only found by us but every other grower got into the stash. We might have to change soils again. Our grower has more gray hairs on his head this year. I know one thing, as hard as it’s been to find soils, seeds and plastic pots, it sure has been nice having our own growing operation this year. I’m hearing from my friends at other garden centers that it is getting very hard to buy the bedding plants and veggies that they need especially since one of the biggest and the best local growing facilities is no longer with us. That would be a disaster.
I’m sure by now everyone is having a hard time finding pine straw. We have come as close to running out as we have ever gotten. This isn’t going to get better anytime soon. Maybe it’s time we can shift over to using pine bark for mulch. It would be a nice change. We order two truckloads a week of pine straw. Luckily we had doubled down but we are coming to the end our stash now. I’m hoping I can pull a rabbit out of a hat somehow.
HOUSEPLANTS ARE NEARLY impossible to get. There’s not much on the availability and when the truck arrives a lot of what we ordered is not there. The same goes for our bush and tree buying. The availabilities, that come to us on Sunday nights are usually 10 - 12 pages long, are now sporting two pages of plants that are available, and that’s if you hurry. Chances are the garden center shoppers are going to have some disappointment when they go to replace a plant. Chances are they may not be able to find exactly what they wanting. We have to be patient.
The buyers at all the nurseries have long lists and have put in some long hours putting orders together. Trust me they are trying as hard as they can to beg, borrow, and steal to get the right plants in. We are calling each other to try to co-op together on truckloads. We are calling each other to see if we can send our customers on to their nursery to get what they need. So far one the good things that has come from this shortage of garden supply is that us nurseries are all in the same boat and that has caused some open communication between us which is always a good thing. It’s times like this when competitors learn to work together.
I’m trying to figure out what caused all these shortages. The soil excuse is that they are having problems finding labor to keep production going. The other reason for shortages is that the cannabis industry in the country is gigantic. They buy up huge quantities of soils and plastics and people with greenhouses are transitioning into the lucrative cannabis industry. As that industry grows the soil producers need to ramp up their production to adjust to the new demand. I think they’ll have it figured out by next spring. Until then we must be patient.
The pine straw shortage is apparently coming from a shortage of labor due to the pandemic. Really? I’m not buying that but I do believe the series of storms that moved through northern Florida and southern Georgia where pine straw comes from has set them back for months. I believe the pine straw shortage will loosen up in a couple weeks. We must be patient.
I do believe the pandemic is to blame for the houseplant shortages. The starter plants come from hard hit Central America. Without the starter plants the houseplant producers can’t get anywhere. That goes for all the tropical plants you are accustomed to seeing at garden centers. It’s getting difficult to find the basics, Hibiscus, Mandevilla, Kimberly Queen ferns and so on. We had two tropical trucks coming in this week that have now been canceled. We must be patient.
I believe the difficulty in getting the trees and shrubs we need is caused by two things. The ice storm in Texas and exponential growth in Texas means they are buying up everything they can get their hands on. They are also having supply chain issues and major labor issues. The good thing that has come from this since I’m trying my best to find the sunny side, is that we are getting a lot of substitutes, plants we don’t normally buy. It’s been kind of nice to have some new and different plants on the ground, we are finding some keepers. A customer coming in to get a specific plant might not think it’s so nice when we don’t have what they want and no promise on the horizon. We must be patient.
I don’t even want to talk about what is probably coming to the Christmas tree selling season. I don’t think it’s going to be good so be prepared.
THE INCREASE IN gardeners, about 15 million new gardeners that came from the lock downs, is the main reason everything is getting bought up so fast. I’ve been doing this for 40 years and so have most of the people who work at our place. I’m talking to some of the other nursery owners. No one has ever seen anything quite like it. Suddenly there’s a frenzy in our industry.
It’s very challenging keeping our shelves stocked this year so you should go prepared to possibly come home with something you didn’t expect. This might be your most fun year of gardening or it might be your nightmare of a garden year. It’s up to you which attitude to take. No matter which attitude you choose, as a guy from my past used to live by these words that seem to fit this situation, “it is what it is!”
I really believe all this will level out in time so I hope everyone can make the best of it while the whole world rights itself. We all just survived a worldwide pandemic, I think we can get past a few hiccups in the garden.