Vegetable and herb gardening got off to an early start this year thanks to unseasonably warm weather in most parts of the country.
The effect of that, however, on retailers’ sales of fledgling plants has been mixed. Some have seen growth from this time last year, but none reported dramatic increases.
Tomato plant sales have stayed strong, retailers said. Brigido’s Fresh Market in Rhode Island offers three varieties and is featuring a Father’s Day special on patio tomatoes. “We’ve got them and also herbs in our ad,” said Donna Lally, floral manager at the chain.
“I see more people doing container gardening, especially guys,” Lally said.
Down in Louisa, Ky., at K-VA-T’s Food City, floral manager Debbie Burke said business is better this year.
“Because of the weather, we started earlier — in March, instead of the end of April,” Burke said. “I ordered more this year, and it’s a good thing I did. We had temperatures in the 70s, 80s and 90s. We’ve been selling a lot of six-packs of tomatoes, bell peppers, Hungarian hot wax peppers, jalapenos. ”
When customers buy Roma tomatoes, Burke suggests they buy jalapenos as well so they can make their own salsa. She even shares her own recipe.
Burke believes a lot people in her area are newly into gardening, noting more plowed land around town.
Even in Oregon, where the weather is apt to be cool late in the spring, it was 80 degrees on Mother’s Day.
“Mother’s Day was great, a big boost in sales. The weather was so nice we could have flowering plants outside,” said Judy Shaw, floral manager at Newport Avenue Market, Bend, Ore.
“We have plants out now. Tomatoes, peppers, also some unusual ones like horseradish and artichoke plants, and a huge assortment of herbs.”
Shaw said she buys big plants due to inland Oregon’s short growing season.
“We buy almost all six-inch tomato plants,” she said. “I think here you get a better crop in a container. We suggest what grows well, and how big a pot you need.”
At United Supermarkets, Lubbock, Texas, vegetable plant sales lagged a little this year, Bradley Gaines, floral supervisor for the 51-unit chain, told SN.
“We had a big drought last year so some of our regions are limiting the amount of water that can be used,” Gaines said. “Now it’s been cloudy and rainy. People are not in a planting mood.”
Most of the retailers SN talked to said their sales of bedding plants this spring grew, but not by much.
That’s probably because interest in home gardening spurred by the recession has leveled off, industry observers said.
The big jump in food gardening was from 2008 to 2011, Bruce Butterfield, market research director at Burlington, Vt.-based National Gardening Association, told SN.
“Look at the pre-recession figures compared to 2011,” he said. “In 2008, 27 million U.S. households were participating in vegetable gardening, and 14 million in herb gardening. In 2011, there were 30 million households doing vegetable gardening and 18 million growing herbs.”