Md. nurseries suffer deficit in large plants, trees

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (June 16, 2015) — Maryland’s nursery industry is struggling to meet new demand for large plants and trees after cutting back on planting during the recession several years ago, a Maryland Agricultural Commission member said last week.
The industry hasn’t caught back up with inventory since sales took a nosedive after 2007, said Marion Mullan, one of the commission’s two nursery representatives.
Nurseries across the state echoed her observation.
Ruppert Nurseries in Laytonsville typically planted 9,000 to 10,000 trees a year before the recession hit in 2008, according to sales manager Ronda Roemmelt. Then, sales tanked, and the company pulled back to 5,000 a year until 2010.
“We were just trying to not lay anybody off,” Roemmelt said.
The nationwide nursery industry tumbled from $16.6 billion in 2007 to $14.5 billion in 2012, USDA data show. Nurseries closed, laid off employees and cut back on planting.
It’s not just trees either, said Larry Hemming, an owner of Eastern Shore Nurseries Inc. , in Easton.
Harsh winters also killed off many tender plants such as gardenias or camellia flowers, he said, leading to a shortage.
But the overall shortage, Hemming said, has exacerbated a shortage of native tree species, which developers are often required to place on new developments to create tree buffers for mitigation.
“Because housing’s picked up and people are doing stuff there’s a shortage of native plants,” he said. “It just makes it more difficult to get plants. Some plants I just can’t get at certain times of the year, and prices have gone up on some plants.”
Sun Nurseries in Woodbine has been able to buy any plants it runs out of elsewhere, General Manager Annette Fentress said.
But Roemmelt said she expects shortages for the next several years. Before, when landscaping contractors would call and ask for something specific, they’d hang up the phone if her nursery didn’t have what they needed. But the shortage has hit everyone, she said, and things have changed.
“People seem to be a lot less discerning,” she said. “It’s industrywide. I don’t know a single person who’s not having this issue and saying, ‘I’m sitting on tons of material.’”