It’s finally come. The long and cold winter (at least for here) seems to have come to an end. It’s time to get out in the yard and start trying to get it back into shape.
BRUCE LIPSKY/The Times-Union
Troy Sim (left) helps load Trevor Bylund’s car with plants he bought at Hickory Creek Nursery.
This is also the time that nurseries hope their business blooms like azaleas in the spring. A lot of them need it, though predictions run from pessimistic through uncertainty all the way to full optimism.
Bonnie Sim at Hickory Creek Nursery and Landscaping said last year was one of the worst in the history of the business and forced the layoff of three employees. But this year is already starting to look better, she said.
“Our landscapers are getting jobs again,” she said. “Now, if this cold weather would just give us a break.”
The cold weather of the past winter could actually prove to be a boon for nurseries. The Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association doesn’t keep any statewide sales totals, but spokeswoman Jennifer Nells said that sales were clearly down across the state.
“A freeze is always a positive thing for industry sales,” Nells said. “People will be wanting to replace the items they lost.”
Trad’s Garden Center on San Jose Boulevard was one of the few places that didn’t struggle last year. Business there was up 10 percent, according to owner Chris Trad.
“One of thing I’ve seen, and my parents saw before me, is that two things really help business at a nursery,” Trad said, “bad economy and a bad freeze.”
“Every year after a bad freeze,” he said, “they have to replace what they lost. Traditionally, that’s what’s happened. Every year after a bad freeze, we’ve had a good season.”
It does change what people buy, though.
“We’re seeing a lot of people and they’re asking about things that aren’t going to freeze,” Sim said. “They’re shying away from the tropicals.”
As far as the economy, “people stay closer to home,” Trad said. “I can’t attribute it to anything other than that. They’re not moving, they’re not going on as many vacations. But they’re going to fix up their yard and enjoy it.
“And it’s a lot cheaper to fix up a flower bed than a bathroom.”
According to Trad, one way to fight the economic doldrums is to invest more money into your business. Trad’s, which has been on San Jose Boulevard for 38 years, has been undergoing a major overhaul in the past year.
Trad figures that they’ve spent $500,000 since last summer, redoing parking lots and greenhouses, putting in an Asian garden and water features.
“The problem with a lot of nurseries,” he said, “is that they got scared because of what was happening with the economy and quit trying. I don’t know how else to say it.”
Woodland Nurseries, which grows trees and shrubs on 150 acres in Nassau County, saw business drop off last year, primarily due to drop in new construction. But owner John Cassidy is still enlarging his business.
The company’s equipment retailer on New Kings Road will be expanded to include a retail nursery.
“People have spring fever, and I’m seeing an uptick,” Cassidy said. “A lot of folks are staying in their homes and investing in the landscaping.”
Over at Grandiflora, a large wholesale nursery that ships to seven Southeastern states, owner Alan Shapiro isn’t seeing much open down the road.
“Two years ago was bad, last year was worse and this year is shaping up to be even worse,” Shapiro said. “We’re normally shipping by mid-February, but here it is mid-March and it’s dismal.”
But no place has seen the changing business more than Glen St. Mary Nurseries Co., in Glen St. Mary. Lin Taber runs the business that his grandfather started 128 years ago.
They’ve been downsizing in recent years, just to make it all more manageable.
“When we started out,” Taber said, “we were the only nursery in the state of Florida. Now there are tens of thousands.”
They’re specializing more in woody perennials and ship them primarily to landscape contractor from Florida to Virginia. That ties them pretty directly with the construction business.
“If it picks back up,” Taber said, “we’ll see it four or five months after they start because landscaping is the last to go in. That’s just the nature of our business.
“It’s been a long, cold, hard winter and people are ready to get out in their yards. So I think we’re going to have a fairly good April and May. March has started out well.
“But what’s going to happen after the spring euphoria, is there going to be lasting commercial work? I don’t know.
“I’ve been through a couple of these recessions the past decades, and I’ve always been able to tell when we’re going to come out of them. But this time, I don’t have a feeling where I can even halfway predict what’s going to happen.”