Supply chain disruptions are commonplace in 2020. Garden products are no exception, but the nature of living product creates some interesting twists. Commercial growers for the home market make predictions every year for how many seeds to germinate, cuttings to take, trees to graft.
For annual plants, decisions are made for plants to be sold in the next 6 (i.e. small herbs) to 20 (i.e. poinsettias) weeks. For perennial ornamentals, which often start off slowly, planting decisions are for sales projected 6-18 months into the future. For fruit trees, several years, and for larger woody ornamentals, sales are 5-10 years into the future.
Growers of live material don’t have the same agility as other markets when it comes to addressing market surges. When it’s obvious in June that you underestimated sales of the year’s hottest petunia, you can’t travel back in time to February and plant more of it. You take good notes and consider planting more next year. As Bernie Johnson, owner operator of local Mountain Valley Gardens, explains it, “we can’t run out to the warehouse, push the button and crank out 6,000 more widgets by Tuesday AM.”
Proactive gardeners should not panic, as plants will be generally available. Consider, however, locating desired plant material early, willingness to accept variety substitutes, or searching farther afield to locate the desired variety. Regarding substitutions, professionals typically recommend buying woody material, and especially native plants, from a climate as similar to the intended landscape as possible, promoting easier acclimation. In the coming garden season, availability might outweigh that advice.
Expect higher prices for vegetable seeds, and for some varieties to sell out quickly. Those who order early, soon after catalogs are released the first of the year, will be most likely to get everything desired — a situation that will dissolve quickly. Due to the cyclic nature of agriculture, it would take seed farms at least a year to adequately respond to such a huge demand increase as seen in 2020.
In most cases there will be vegetable seeds available, but possibly not the specific varieties or packet size desired. Consider buying a larger packet to share among friends.
Blackberries and raspberries, two fruits that perform well in the Klamath Basin, will likely be in short supply for planting in 2021. Johnson of Mountain Valley Gardens says two varieties of blackberries, ordered earlier this year than ever before, were already unavailable from her preferred vendor.
This has been a great year for planting trees- more home time to nurture them through the first, critical season. Choices for best performance in our climate are already limited and may be hard to find later in the season. Ultimately, the better performance of a well- suited cultivar will be worth the research time. Many nurseries take fall pre-orders for spring shipping and planting: those who choose can order trees now, while selection is still strong.
Review of a national mail order company’s website strawberries offerings revealed that nine of fifteen strawberry varieties are completely sold out — unavailable anywhere, including in southern locales where fall planting is a thing. Of the remaining six varieties, four are listed as “growing”, with availability in the spring, leaving only two varieties available for purchase at this time.
One of those available is “White pineberry”, an interesting pale pink berry with unusual flavor, but not a very prolific producer. Johnson experienced the same in the professional grower market: about half of the strawberry types she’s seeking for next year’s market aren’t available at her preferred vendor.
Popular woody ornamentals
Conversations with nursery pros suggest that specific ornamentals will be in short supply in some places while plentiful in others. Some plants may not be in short supply at all — but certain cultivars or sizes will be difficult to find.
Those in the market for landscape renovation or looking to add more trees to the landscape might consider being flexible in choices, having a list of several potential acceptable trees for a particular location. Some woody plants are in the nursery for eight to ten years before being sold — changes in market demand are addressed in years, not over one season.
At Mountain Valley Gardens, Johnson and her team are already researching alternative options to find caneberry, grape, and strawberry varieties suitable for our climate from alternative vendors. She and other professionals suggest that while locating some items may require some “treasure hunting” and flexibility in plant sizes and prices, most gardeners will be able to find most of the plants they want for the 2021 growing season — with just a little more elbow grease.
— Nicole Sanchez is horticulture faculty at OSU’s Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center. For more information on this or other gardening topics, contact Sanchez at 541-883-7131 or Nicole.firstname.lastname@example.org.