Triangle nurseries face growing economic challenges

Posted October 9, 2011 10:12 a.m. EDT

— In the midst of the fall planting season, Triangle nurseries are struggling with a down economy and uncooperative weather – challenges that come after several years of sluggish sales.

At the Garden Supply Company in Cary, homeowners have been quick to pick up pansies and mums, but builders aren't snapping up holly and magnolia trees.

"There aren't as many houses going in, so you're not selling as many large shade trees or screen plants," Garden Supply Company owner Keith Ramsey said.

Before the housing market crashed, new subdivisions were popping up in the Triangle, and nurseries would get large-volume orders from builders and landscapers. Those sales have dried up as the home construction industry struggles to recover.

Garden Supply has seen demand go down about 10 percent, and business has wilted as much as 20 percent at Homewood Nursery in Raleigh.

"Our sales are not what they were three or four years ago," Homewood Nursery owner Joe Stoffregen said.

This year, sales have also been hampered by weather.

"We've just had rainy, rainy Saturdays and a hot, dry summer," Ramsey said.

Homeowners' love of flowers and gardening, though, have remained a bright spot in sales.

"People get a lot of pleasure out of putting flowers in their yard. It makes people feel better," Stoffregen said.

He said Homewood Nursery has put in more effort to draw in the individual customer, offering more coupons and promotions.

Barbara Mangum, of Cary, said she still comes to the Garden Supply Company to pick out fall flowers and to browse.

"This is my happy place," Mangum said. "How can you not be happy around all these beautiful plants?"