Keeping the Nursery Well Stocked

Huge potted specimen of Picea 'Gold Drift' with man beside for scale.

Picea ‘Gold Drift’ is the spectacular gold form of Weeping Norway Spruce. This is the “parent” of the plants we offer at the nursery at 3-4′ height.

Tower truck shown on large loading dock with trees and shrubs and greenhouses.

I travel to large wholesale nurseries to acquire plants for the season. Buying trips can happen almost any time of year.

The nursery business is seasonal.  Most customers come and make purchases in May and June.  Some come in April and July.  Only a trickle come outside of those months.  We’re closed for retail browsing October-March.  That’s a pretty short season.

However, the work of the nursery and getting plants ready for you goes on 12 months of the year.  This September, I just returned from a buying trip in Oregon.  Oregon is the center of the nursery universe; nurseries are the number one industry in the state of Oregon.  The photo at left shows our truck at a loading dock in Oregon that had 19 trucks coming to pick up plants that Tuesday even as late as September.  Driving from nursery to nursery I am able to get the specialty plants that we are known by.  Plants such as Picea ‘Gold Drift’ are worthy of a separate blog, but the photo at right demonstrates my point that it is worth it to find plants this special.  We sell ‘Gold Drift’ at a younger size, but when you see what’s coming, it is a fine landscape investment to plant such a specimen.

Some nurseries have many millions of dollars worth of inventory, huge staff and facilities covering square miles.  Some have coolers for bare root material that are so large that semi trailers can drive right into the facility. Even the moderate size wholesale nurseries are  much bigger than the retail stores that may be familiar to you.  They will pull an order from the yard and bring it to the dock using a variety of means, such as  the trailers being drawn by the small tractor at left.

tractor with cards loaded with trees and a worker balanced on the top.

These workers are bringing stock to the loading dock to go out in a truck that afternoon. Hispanics comprise the majority of the work force in most of the Oregon nurseries.

Nurseries get loads of catalogs and we place most of the orders for the following season in July.  Though a few items may be added later in the year, by the end of August almost everything is on order for the following year.  And remember, we have to order large quantities in most cases.  For many plants, I must order a minimum of 72 of a variety and must order at least 200 plants in total to place the order.  That’s why it is not that simple to get a nursery to special order a plant for you.  We need lots of lead time, and we need to order plants that will be sufficiently popular to sell a large enough quantity to break even. If you want one or even 10 of a given plant, it may not really be a simple matter to send a truck to retrieve that order.  Trucking costs are generally over $1000 per load and it is not worth it to send a truck for a small number of items.

Tower Perennial Gardens has a constant inventory of plants.  We have shrubs growing up to size, perennials being grown from seed, division and from liners that are purchased.  Every day we plant, divide, grow under heat, grow under lights…the plants you enjoy don’t appear by magic.  Our year round employees are involved in plant production all winter.  We are able to offer the large selection of plants we provide thanks to our own growing and propagation as well as by having excellent suppliers of rare and choice plants.  In winter there are seedlings and grafting and so much more in the nursery industry.  Year around there are plants produced by micro-propagation in test tubes.

The process of growing and stocking a nursery is worth several blog postings; this should at least give an introduction to the topic.  I chose to write this piece on the advice of a customer who pointed out that many of you may find the experience of shopping at giant wholesale nurseries to be of interest since it is the unseen side of the industry.

two hands with a grafting knife shown grafting a blue spruce to the understock.

Here a master grafter is preparing to graft a cultivar of blue spruce to the understock.



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