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Everything’s coming up green

Ah spring! Lots of thumbs are turning green and it’s the best time of year for garden centers. Nursery owners say Good Friday was the season’s kick-off time.

At Horne’s Nursery in Laurel, owner Lynn Thompson says the season gives her business an economical boost for the rest of the year. “We have good sales in March, April and May,” she said. “You can’t hardly survive in the nursery business without it. The season hit with a vengeance and should be good through the end of May.”

She says she and the eight employees at the nursery started by her dad are ready for this busy time of year. They’re selling lots of bedding plants, vegetables and shrubs and the old favorites — azaleas and camellias.

“Twenty years ago marigolds and impatiens were in every yard, but what’s hot now is anything that will bloom every year,” Thompson said. “We’re selling a lot of perennials. People are looking for plants that don’t need as much work; things you don’t have to deadhead.”

She said the nursery business has evolved toward plants that are quicker, easier to grow and includes a lot of plants that grow well in pots. The pinta, a Mississippi Medallion plant, is one of many new plants nurseries are selling. The Mississippi Nursery Association picks a medallion winner each year.

Billy Martinson says the spring growing season has definitely hit at his family’s Garden Works in Ridgeland where retail sales are up over this time last year. “People are buying azaleas like they’re going out of style, along with Indian Hawthorne and geraniums,” he said. “The geraniums are full bloom and tight this year. The old granny plants, spirea and forsythia, are selling well, too. And all the cool weather vegetables are marching out of here.”

Weed killers and fertilizer, especially the tree stake fertilizers, are hot sellers now, too.

He said January and February were good months for the sale of fruit trees. Now sales are picking up for Bradford pear and dwarf Japanese red leaf maple trees. “We’ve increased our supply of those this year and they’re beautiful,” he said. “It’s an excellent time to plant trees and we still have a lot on hand.”

Martinson, who opened Green Oak Nursery in 1960 when he got out of military service, says there’s a tight supply of green shrubs this year. It’s a problem that’s showing up at the wholesale level. It reminds him of the period a couple of decades ago when oil and gas prices were high like they are now.

“We thought it was doom for the nursery industry because money was tight,” he recalls, “but it was a blessing. People stayed home and took care of the homestead. We’re seeing some of that now.”

Now retired, Martinson, 70, sold Green Oak to his daughter and son-in-law, Karen and Maur McKie. The first of the year, Garden Works, a nine-acre garden center, was sold to his son and daughter-in-law, Allen and Mimi Martinson. He’s pleased to see the family tradition carried on and will continue to do some landscaping.

“The nursery business is very rewarding when you care for what you do,” he said.

His favorite flowers are camellias and roses. “I love camellias and I’ve got them all over the place. I like the variegated, pink perfection, debutante. They’re beautiful,” he said. “And I like roses too. If you take care of a rose bush, it will work for you from April or May to December. They do require a little maintenance but not like the old days. It’s easier to take care of them now.”

Tommy Delia, horticulturist and nursery manager at Farm Depot in Hattiesburg, says he’s getting lots of questions about spring planting. “A lot of people plant for Good Friday but it’s not that important. It’s just tradition. The best time to plant is when you’re sure the last frost has passed,” he said. “Just wait and watch till you’re sure. Planting early gives a jump start on harvest, but people mostly plant by convenience these days.”

He says the next three months are prime planting months, and it’s a good time economically to help stimulate sales coming out of January and February. However, the winter months were not real slow because they sell everything, including fruit trees that are planted in winter.

In August, Farm Depot moved to U.S. 98 West from U.S. 49 South where it was called Southern Farms, a nursery that evolved from the old county co-op. Now, Delia says it’s a complete farm and garden center with everything for the country lifestyle.

“Everyone wants tomato and pepper plants and after that it’s squash and okra,” he said. “With flowers, perennials are more colorful and more popular.”

When plants are selling, lawn equipment is too, and that’s a good time of year for Lee Tractor Company in Biloxi. “Any time the weather starts breaking, everyone wants to get their gardens planted,” Jeff Brand, sales representative, said. “From the first of March through September, we sell a lot of lawn tractors.”

The Kubota dealership sells everything from a 15-horsepower lawn mower up to a 120-horsepower tractor. Brand says the latest model is a zero-turn mower that can turn a 360-degree radius. “We sell a lot of those to lawn service businesses because they’re much faster and more productive,” he added.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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