Looking towards 2015 we are excited about the prospect of an economy on the mend. We are hopeful that the next several years will bring many residential and commercial construction projects and the landscape installations that accompany them.
Unfortunately, the nursery world – the backbone of our business – is one of the least nimble sectors of the construction industry. While a concrete plant or car factory can ramp up production in a matter of weeks, most plant material takes years to reach saleable size. A large caliper Oak tree might be 15 years old at the time of transplant, and some of the big American Boxwoods we routinely plant can be 20 or 30 years old (if not more). Even “bread and butter” plants like 2-3″ caliper Maples grow for 5 to 10 years before leaving the nursery.
When the economy turned in 2007, many tree nurseries scaled back production or were forced to close their doors. During this time there were still many trees sold and grown, but the industry was not resilient enough to replant as many trees as were being dug. Fast forward to 2015 and we are now starting to see some major shortages – delayed 5 to 10 years, about the time it takes to grow a 2″ caliper shade tree – in all sorts of plant materials. We expect these shortages to affect our business in multiple ways.
First, tree prices are going to increase. High-volume, low-margin nurseries took the biggest hits in the recession, and many of the shortages are affecting the cheapest plant material. There are still lots of high quality plants grown in specialty nurseries all across the country, but these often come at a premium price.
Second, freight costs are going to increase. Where it was once possible to use a handful of large nurseries for a project, now it may take 5 or 10 nurseries (or more) to complete a single project. We anticipate lots of partial loads and half-empty trucks over the next few years, both of which contribute substantially to freight costs. In some cases we may simply have to travel further to find the same trees and shrubs that were once grown next door. Fortunately, fuel costs remain low, which will hopefully offset some of these concerns.
Third, general availability is going to be diminished. We expect shortages on landscape staples like 2″ to 3″ caliper shade and flowering trees, or slow-growing material like boxwoods and other foundation shrubs (we don’t expect too many shortages on smaller material like 3-gallon shrubs or perennials, or specialty material like specimen trees, native plants, or Japanese Maples). Though we are confident that we’ll be able to find whatever plant is needed for a given project, it may be expensive in some cases to match plant lists exactly. In this circumstance, we may make small substitutions for similar cultivars or grades in order to keep quality up and costs as low as possible.
Overall, we are very optimistic about the future. We will continue to source the highest-quality plant material for all of our jobs at the best possible price. Additionally, we may be seeking more flexibility with plant sizes on plant lists. In closing, please use us as a resource! We are happy to offer feedback and options in regards to plant availability this spring and in the future.
Success of any of these plants in the landscape can also depend on weather conditions and availability of other food sources.