Louisiana nursery business up after cold winter

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damaged queen palm
An unusually cold winter damaged many Louisiana landscape plants, such as this queen palm in Baton Rouge. (Photo by Allen Owings)

News Release Distributed 05/07/14

BATON ROUGE, La. – After an unusually cold winter that damaged landscapes across Louisiana, the state's nursery industry is booming as home gardeners and nursery owners replace plants.

LSU AgCenter horticulturist Allen Owings said retail and wholesale sales since March have been excellent, surpassing spring 2013 figures by 10 to 20 percent. Plant sales typically taper off after Mother's Day, which is Sunday, but retailers hope to maintain strong business through Memorial Day or early June this year, he said.

This time of year is usually busy anyway — retailers make about 50 percent of their annual income between March and May, Owings said — but sales of replacement plants could help make up for losses endured during a cold, wet January and February.

Bobby Young, manager of Doug Young Nursery in Forest Hill, Louisiana, said this winter was more devastating than normal to both his nursery and customers. Young said a few shoppers have mentioned losing plants to the cold, and he predicts an increase in business.

In 2013, the total value of the Louisiana nursery industry at the wholesale level was $154.8 million.

"In general, when you have a cold winter it's good for the nursery growers because some of the plants like impatiens and begonias that need a mild winter won't come back," said Stuart Gauthier, AgCenter southwest area horticulture agent in Breaux Bridge. "Cold weather knocks out a lot of bedding plants and tropicals that usually survive our warmer winters."

While Gauthier said the increase in chilling hours was beneficial for peach and plum trees, which require a certain number of hours below 45 degrees to produce fruit, the cold damaged many citrus trees in Louisiana. Damage from this winter came close to that in 1989, which killed all the citrus trees in Louisiana, Gauthier said.

Sara Rogers, AgCenter central area horticulture agent in New Roads, said she has received several calls from people wondering if their citrus trees will survive. It may be hard to tell, however, until summer or even fall, she said.

Sales of tropical plants like hibiscus are up, Rogers said. Hibiscus can survive Louisiana's usually mild winters, but "they didn't stand a chance this past winter without adequate protection."

The same is true of queen palm trees, a number of which were damaged in the Lafayette-Breaux Bridge area, Gauthier said. Many of those trees had been growing for years and were an investment that people had put a lot of money into.

In northern Louisiana, people are concerned about St. Augustine turfgrass, according to Melea Martin, northwest area horticulture agent in Shreveport. If 70 percent or more of a turfgrass lawn dies, it must be resodded. The cold winter was particularly damaging to lawns that were sodded several years ago and have significant thatch buildup, Martin said.

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