More buyers seek returns from ornamental plants
By STEVE BROWN
CHEHALIS, Wash. -- Both the weather and the economy are making business unpredictable for Kim Wood.
Last winter killed a lot of gardens, the owner of Sun and Shade Nursery said, but the prolonged spring depressed sales of bedding plants. Last summer's heat scorched a lot of evergreen trees, and those have been selling briskly.
Wood said she has seen high demand for fruit trees, as homeowners want to get something edible out of their efforts. Unusual varieties of landscaping trees have also been popular, "but nothing over $100."
Deer-resistant and winter-hardy plants, which survive down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, are also selling well.
A wide variety has been a mainstay of her small retail business, she said. "We have things you can't get at chain stores."
She offers a six-month replacement guarantee on trees and shrubs, along with a planting guide with every sale. "We get lots of repeat customers year after year," she said. "Our only advertising is word-of-mouth."
At the wholesale level, Dick Harnden has also seen fruit trees getting more attention in landscaping. The owner of Harnden's Tree Nursery in Snohomish, Wash., grows a large variety of shade, conifer and fruit trees.
"We still sell the same varieties, but in the past two years it has been smaller quantities," he said. "Nurseries are ordering only what they need when they need it.
"With the surplus of trees and the downturn in the economy, we've had a lot of overproduction."
Harnden said he moved 15,000 trees three years ago, but the past two years traffic has been 30 percent under that. "Things go from one extreme to another, and eventually we'll have a shortage of trees."
Some nursery owners, he said, are looking for more reliable sources of income for their land.
David Wodaege, a nurseryman in Woodland, Wash., specializes in ornamentals. During a recent tour of organic farms, he said: "I'm looking to diversify, to keep working in the off-season. I've been looking at possibilities today, all the successes and failures.
"Organic is something that's just going to get better and better," he said. "I figure I can sell conventional until I'm certified organic."
Harnden said he's seeing some hopeful signs. "Summer sales are not that bad -- just slightly behind last year."
Looking further ahead, he said he has heard talk about more drought-tolerant species. "It's probably a growing market, but the demand hasn't changed. We're selling more columnar, less broad-spreading trees for urban plantings."
Industrywide, the downturn in new home sales has meant record low business for nurseries selling into the landscape trade, said Elizabeth Peters, director of communications and publications for the Oregon Association of Nurseries.
"Ball-and-burlap is struggling most of all, down about 30 percent," she said. "That tends to be mostly trees.
"Blueberries have been a bright spot, as people want to grow their own food," she said.
She has seen some growers looking at native plants for specific regions, which she credited to a general desire to help with ecological efforts.
"Markets are wanting to preserve water," she said. "These issues are growing across the United States, but whether it's due to the expense of water or concerns over climate change, I don't know."