Finding the Plant You Want Might Be Harder in the Near Future

As the pre-recession housing bubble swelled, landscape nursery production ramped up to meet an over-stimulated market. When that bubble burst, landscaping clients disappeared and nursery owners no longer had buyers for their plants. What ensued thereafter was a massive culling of nursery stock and the eventual loss of hundreds of landscape nursery companies. According to Nancy Buley, director of communications at J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co., one of the country's largest wholesale growers, "Overall planting, industry-wide, may have been down 50 percent or more". (Raver, 36)

Following are some anecdotal figures, summarizing the impact of the recession on the green industry. The numbers are according to Professor Charlie Hall, agricultural economist with Texas A&M, excerpted from an article written by Anne Raver in the June 2012 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

During the recession the landscape industry faced:

  • A loss of 25% of nursery growers
  • A loss of 40% of landscape contractors (including the "mow-blow-and-go" types)
  • A loss of 20-25% of garden centers
  • A drop of planted nursery stock anywhere between 30% to 80%, depending on the company

Professor Hall considers these numbers to be conservative estimates. (Raver, 38)

Today, nurseries are on the rebound with sales inching upward and more calls from clients looking for plants. Yet, the effects of the recession are about to rear its ugly head once more on the green industry. Trees are grown on three-, five-, seven-, and 10-year cycles, and just because the economy has rebounded doesn't, mean nursery production simply can be increased to meet the demand. (Raver, 38) Now that clients have begun buying trees and shrubs, stock has become scarce after growers scrapped inventory to make it through the recession.

Only a handful of specialty nurseries were able to weather the economic downturn unscathed, relying on the high-end residential market and contracts from pre-recession times.

Another factor will play into the oncoming shortage of landscape nursery stock. Industry sources indicate the retiring generation of baby boomers will leave a hole in the nursery trade at a local level. Many of the "Ma and Pop" operations are closing down across Illinois and likely the country. Some were affected by the recession while others simply are at that age of grander pursuits of the golden years. Sources say on the flip-side there will be new blood coming in as retiring baby boomers, not native to the nursery trade, decide to plant a few acres of landscape stock. These would best be defined as a hobbyist nursery, with little impact in the overall commercial market.

In the foreseeable future, expect shortages of popular landscape plants like 'October Glory' maples, arborvitae screening shrubs, and many others. So what should you do if you have a future project in mind, but aren't quite ready to plant that new tree? Many local nurseries allow customers to walk the fields and tag trees for future plantings. Check out this helpful publication from Trees Are Good on Tree Selection and Placement.

With time and high demand the landscape nursery trade will once again become more lucrative and many upstarts will glut the market. But in the meantime, finding the plant you want for your landscape might pose a challenge.