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For nurseries, wet weather costs business

For local nurseries and garden centers, cold and rainy weather means more than umbrellas and jackets: It means lost business.

Garden retailers say that, so far, weekend sales this year have been slower due to the weather, which has kept gardeners cooped up indoors. The frequent rain has been the primary culprit.

“If it’s not raining, we’ll see 300 to 400 people,” said Jeff Hunter, manager of Pike Nurseries in Ballantyne. “If it’s raining, we’ll see 150people.”

The rain, they say, is good for trees and perennials that have already been planted. But the highly volatile garden business is equal part plant survival and consumer comfort.

And even though the soil is warm enough for a new plant to survive, the weather has to be nice enough to get people outdoors, says Peggy Long, manager of Ford’s Seeds and Plants in Gastonia. Which is why this year’s weather has been such a problem.

“They’re still out (shopping), but maybe not buying as much as what they would have if the sun had been out,” Long said.

Most retailers say April 15 is usually the cut-off for frost. But some plants and herbs need warmer temperatures to survive.

“It’s definitely throwing schedules off,” said Nick Waddell, general manager of Rountree Plantation Greenhouse & Garden Center, a 35-year-old family-owned business near Old Pineville Road.

Waddell says they’re still seeing a lot of traffic, but not as much – or as early – as normal.

“We’re waiting to see if they’re going to do it (plant) later, or just not do it at all,” Waddell said.

The bad weather can hurt big-box retailers, too. Spring, also their busiest time of year, traditionally brings a flood of promotions.

Representatives of Mooresville-based Lowe’s Home Improvement declined to comment on the story because of a “quiet period” leading up to the release of their first-quarter financial results May 22.

Metrolina Greenhouses of Huntersville, the largest single-site greenhouse in the U.S. and a supplier for some Lowe’s and Wal-Mart stores along the East Coast, says the cooler weather delayed the start of the season, especially compared with last year’s unseasonably warm start.

“If you want to talk how the rain affects us, that is a totally different story,” CEO Abe Van Wingerden, wrote in an email. “Forty percent of our business is on the weekends, and when we have a bad weekend like this past weekend, it hurts sales. … We love rain but would prefer it happen on Monday evenings after everyone has had an opportunity to plant their flowers over the weekend.”

The loss in local area sales has been mitigated by sales in other markets, particularly in Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey, Wingerden says.

Wet soil creates challenges

Temperature-wise, the weather right now isn’t so bad for gardening, said Deborah Moore Clark, a local master gardener, who says the rain has made her perennials lush and green.

But wet soil makes digging more difficult, she says. And walking on wet soil can make it too compact, hampering drainage and making it difficult for the young plants to breathe.

She adds that even a perfect combination of rain and warm weather wouldn’t guarantee a plant’s success.

“You need sun and rain, but each plant has its own needs and you have to know what those are,” Clark said. “How much light, how much water, what kind of drainage, exposure to the sun in the morning or afternoon, the genetics of the plant.”

But Clark said she started planning for this season weeks ago, when she went to the Cabarrus County Plant and Herb Festival to stock up on thyme, parsley and sage, all of which she says are already starting to grow.

And other consumers have been running to the nurseries at the first sign of sunshine.

Monday afternoon, south Charlotte residents Lidia Pallo and her mother, RoseMarie Molinari, made their second trip to Rountree Plantation Greenhouse & Garden Center, loading their cart with geraniums, petunias, daisies and begonias.

“It’s been awfully rainy and cold, but today we thought it was getting sunny ... so we just said, ‘It’ll get warm eventually,’ ” Pallo said. “We have spring in our hearts. We’re going to pour some iced tea, sit on the porch and get them planted today.”

As for this weekend? Predictions are sunny.

McMillan: 704-358-6045 Twitter: @cbmcmillan
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