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Nurseries recoup drought losses by the wagon load

Nursery owners say they count each wagon load of plants customers buy as one more sale that will help pull their businesses out of the hole created by the drought.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Nurseries are counting on Triangle residents to plunge into an activity curtailed by the drought for the past year: working in their yards.
Nursery owners said that they counted their losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, while water restrictions that severely limited or completely banned outdoor watering kept away the customers.

"I compared it to be a dairy farmer who was told he would milk his cows and couldn't sell the milk," said owner Joe Stoffregen, who added that Homewood Nursery runs off a well.

Stoffregen said he lost about $400,000 in sales due to the drought, and a fourth of that loss came in March alone.

"It's probably the biggest challenge we've ever been through in 40 years," he said.

However, Stoffregen said sales have picked up since Falls Lake got full again and Raleigh officials relaxed restrictions in early April. Homeowners can do outdoor watering two days a week.

"I'm glad to be able to water again," homeowner Susan Kuller said while she was shopping for plants Monday.

Some nursery owners and customers, though, indicated that the drought's influence has not been erased completely.

"We haven't made up for lost business, because I think customers are still concerned with all the water restrictions, even though we are getting plenty of rainfall," Jason Holt, manager of Atlantic Avenue Orchid and Garden Center General, said.

Many nursery customers said they planned to buy drought-resistant plants.

"I am trying to choose my plants wisely, some that can handle full sun and handle the drought," homeowner Mikkie Pickle said.

Nursery owners said customers have shied away from expensive items, including trees, due to their expense and vulnerability to drought.

"You want to protect your investment," nursery customer Debbie Randall said. "It's expensive to do landscaping and not be able to water it and watch everything die."


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