Shortages: the landscaper's take

Shortages: the landscaper's take

We asked landscape contractors about their plant material concerns going into 2017.

November 10, 2016

As part of Nursery Management's upcoming State of the Industry issue, we asked growers for their reflections on 2016 and predictions for 2017. Last week, we covered the topic of shortages from a liner grower’s perspective. Let’s look at the topic of shortages from the view of one of the primary plant buyers: the landscaper.

Kevin McHale is president of McHale Landscape Design, a high-end residential design/build landscape contractor operating in the Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia markets. Jeff Gibson is landscape business manager for Ball Horticultural Company, where he connects landscape professionals with their local grower.

Watch for more perspectives on the industry online and in our November issue.

Nursery Management: Have you noticed shortages in the marketplace?

Jeff Gibson, landscape business manager, Ball Horticultural Company: Most of the conversation within the nursery and landscaper channels on shortages has to do with smaller caliper (2-3”) ornamental trees. That’s due in large part to the lingering effects of the recession.

Interestingly, there is a shortage of evergreens in larger sizes as well. Same reason, recession inspiring “scraping” field-grown stock due to lack of sales. The stock is not replanted immediately and we are now seeing the latency effect years later as the stock sizes up. This has driven prices up for these items. Garden centers and landscapers are seeing this.

Kevin McHale, president, McHale Landscape Design: The nursery industry has clearly been impacted by the recession of 2008-2012. Many growers did not have the funds to plant their farms and many did not plant. This created the current shortages of many plants due to a short supply and the current high demand which is driven by the improving economy. Plants in short supply and high demand include boxwood, all varieties and sizes, Green Giant arborvitae and some 2” trees.

NM: Have you noticed any surpluses in the market? If so, what type or types of material?

KM: The only surplus we are aware of is Foster Holly. They seem to be available in all sizes. During the later years of the recession, there was a surplus on large shade trees 5” and larger and large evergreens 16’ and larger. However now, I would describe the situation as shortages on everything, surplus of nothing and the cost of plants higher than they have ever been.

JG: I’m not seeing surpluses. A common theme I mention in all my talks to the landscape trade is this very thing, NO speculation by growers. Again, it’s a lingering effect of the recession. Growers got a lot sharper on growing “to order” or growing close to prior year sales. Many growers determined it is better to run out (assuming the sales plan is made) then to grow extra hoping to add extra sales, but resulting in costly dumps if unsold. Growers have become more risk averse.

This is a real issue for contractors on the hunt for “new.” Most do not pre-plan, or pre-order newer items. This results in getting only what is available from the growers at the time they need something.

NM: What do you expect the market to look like in 2017?

KM: We all know the economy is cyclic and clearly it is the nurseryman’s turn as it was the contractors’ turn a few years back. Nurseries that have plant material are very happy they planted during the recession. Nurseries that didn’t plant, wish they did.

The price of plant material to contractors has risen substantially, as much as 50 percent and more, in some cases, over the last few years. We can find what we need. It just takes longer to find the plants. We have to broaden our search of nurseries, do business with nurseries we don’t know and we have to pay more than we would like.

JG: Nurseries were turning under nursery stock on 2008-2009. Many didn’t replant until 2012-2014. Two-to-three-year-old trees are just now coming online. Demand has returned as well. Homeowners did not do large outdoor projects in that timeframe, now they are willing to do so. Contractors are finding prices higher, and select items, some “bread and butter items” out of stock or in short supply. This will correct itself over the next 2-3 years as stock continues to grow.

For more from your landscape customers, read Lawn & Landscape’s State of the Industry issue.

Photo courtesy of Ruppert Landscape