Plant nursery sector trends

A diverse plant nursery inside a greenhouse

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the horticultural production sector

The first half of the 2000s saw strong demand for garden plants for a number of reasons:

  • the housing market was very healthy, with many new properties being built
  • gardening has for many years been one of the most popular leisure activities and now enjoys widespread coverage on TV and the radio, in magazines and newspapers
  • container grown plants make 'instant' gardening possible - people do not have much time to spend growing plants from seed
  • the amenity sector was buoyant, with parks, estates, sports centres, public areas and so on all benefiting from landscaping activities

This created a healthy demand for plant nurseries, although they faced strong competition from cheap imports.

Unfortunately the economy saw a sharp downturn during the late 2000s and early 2010s, and people found they had much less money in their pockets to spend on non-essentials like plants and gardening. A slump in the housing market didn't help the industry either. Although the garden industry as a whole suffered from a downturn in demand, the sector didn't fare quite as badly as other businesses. This is because many consumers decided to grow their own vegetables or to spend more time gardening instead of participating in more expensive leisure activities.

Very cold winter temperatures during the late 2000s/early 2010s led to plant losses for many nurseries and also led to gardeners and landscapers becoming more cautious in their choice of plants. To reduce the impact of this type of loss in the future a wider range of hardier plants might be grown.

Many nurseries also suffered heavy losses during the early 2010s with the spread of Ash dieback, leading to the destruction of about £10 million worth of stock. On a smaller scale, the outbreak of downy mildew in 2012/2013 led to the complete withdrawal of affected impatiens walleriana (busy lizzies).

Better weather in 2013/14 and a pick up in the economy during 2014 resulted in better trading conditions for plant nurseries. Unfortunately the economy and the housing market slowed again towards the end of 2015 and into 2016 and 2017. With a depressed housing market, falling consumer confidence, increasing inflation putting pressure on disposable incomes and less spending on the amenity sector due to continuing government cuts, the plant industry is once again facing challenging times and prices are likely to remain competitive. Other concerns for plant nurseries include skilled labour shortages (forecast to worsen as a result of the Brexit vote) and pressure to reduce water and energy usage. Little change is expected in 2019. The fall in the value of the pound after the Brexit vote put up the cost of imports so the industry may have benefited from a slowing of the flow of cheap imports.

Basing your business planning on industry trends

You will have to decide whether:

  • there is sufficient demand either locally or nationally for the range of plants you plan to grow
  • the prices you will be able to charge will be high enough to cover your costs and make a profit - bear in mind that the sector is labour-intensive and you will have to be able to employ a certain number of employees

Keeping up to date with developments

Joining a trade association is an excellent way of keeping up with developments in your industry. The horticultural sector is represented by a number of different organisations, including:

  • the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA), Horticulture House, Manor Court, Chilton, Didcot, Oxfordshire, OX11 0RN
  • the Commercial Horticultural Association (CHA), The White House, High Street, Brasted, near Westerham, Kent TN16 1JE
  • AHDB Horticulture (previously the Horticultural Development Company - HDC), Stoneleigh Park, Kenilworth, Warwickshire CV8 2TL
  • the British Protected Ornamentals Association (BPOA), PO Box 691, Chichester PO19 9NA
  • the Chartered Institute of Horticulture, Horticulture House, Manor Court, Chilton, Didcot, Oxfordshire, OX11 0RN
  • the National Farmers Union, Agriculture House, Stoneleigh Park, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire CV8 2TZ
  • the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), 80 Vincent Square, London SW1P 2PE

You can find out more about the above organisations on their websites.

There is also a great deal of information relevant to the plant nursery sector provided by the UK agriculture departments. For more information, contact:

  • the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
  • the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland
  • the Scottish Government Rural Affairs and Environment Department in Scotland

Subscribing to a trade journal is another good way of keeping up with the latest developments. Trade journals for plant nurseries include Horticulture Week and The Plantsman (published by the RHS).

Trade exhibitions, agricultural and flower shows

You can get a lot of useful information by visiting a trade show or exhibition for the gardening sector. One of the main exhibitions is GLEE, held at the NEC in Birmingham every September. The HTA organises an annual National Plant Show during the summer months. There are many flower shows around the country, including the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

Information about forthcoming trade shows can be found on the exhibitions website.

The Horticultural Exhibitors Association (HEA) represents the interests of horticultural traders who exhibit at shows. The HEA runs the From my Nursery to Your Garden initiative. This identifies nurseries that grow at least 70% of the plants they offer for sale in the UK. Visit the HEA website for details.

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