Mixed Reports About Nursery Stock Shortages

Weeping Threadneedle Arborvitae Monrovia

With much of the country experiencing an unusually moderate March, strong spring sales have caught some green buyers by surprise. As retailers scramble to fill their plant inventories, some have found nursery supplies hard to find.

“From the supply side, we can only hope this is true,” says Pat Bailey, of Bailey Nurseries. “[Past] supply and demand has driven many prices into the dirt, which is unsustainable for the entire supply chain.”

It’s well known that the past few years have been difficult for growers, with major names like Carolina Nursery forced out of business. A glutted market led growers to reduce their production in an effort to meet market realities.

“It’s certainly true that we and other producers cut back production the past three years, and had record high scrap numbers, when there was a big glut of product on the market,” says Monrovia’s Pam Wasson. ”As a result, we are fortunate that our plants are better quality and younger than in prior years.”

But has the pendulum swung, and the nursery supply is now too low?

“On a broader total U.S. level, we keep hearing that there are shortages in the market,” Wasson says. “But we are also hearing from individual sales reps that there is plenty of plant material out there. It’s hard to say for sure and we will only know when we are further along in the spring selling season.”

“Shortages could well be possible with certain plants – particularly better quality material,” says David Wilson of Overdevest Nurseries.

Some plants are more vulnerable to shortages than others. An obvious factor in which varieties are vulnerable to short supplies is the length of time it takes to grow the plant.

“Short-term crops – annuals, perennials, many container shrubs (one year or less) – are able to adjust up and down relatively quickly. Long-term crops (evergreens, trees, big shrubs) – those that take more than two years – are much slower to adjust,” Bailey says.

One slow-growing category that’s in plentiful supply, Bailey says, is big B&B. “But anything less than 2.5-inch caliper is/will be short. Container trees (which are typically less than 2 inches) are starting to show some shortages, too,” he says.

Like Monrovia and Bailey Nurseries, Overdevest is well positioned for the new market. “We shifted our production by adding to our selection of new varieties and by introducing new lines of plants. Market response has been gratifying over the last two years. This has us sold out on a number of items, but still having a nice selection available. That said, interest has been brisk due to the improving economy, tighter supply, and an amazingly early start to spring,” Wilson says.

After years of deep discounts on trees and shrubs, retailers may find that prices are back to normal levels. “Pricing changes will vary by product category. As supply/demand corrects, I foresee a combination of less discounting and/or an increase to list prices,” Bailey says.

There is a definite note of optimism in the industry with the economy beginning to recover.

“It seems clear the bottom has been reached and the better times have begun,” says Wasson.

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