Never in his life has Shane Ziegler seen the demand for plants increase as it has over the past two years.
“If you are in business in the field of plants, if you are a nursery, a garden centre, a landscaper; I don’t care if you’re the kid mowing everyone’s lawn, if you haven’t done well in the past two years, give up,” said Ziegler, owner of Ziegler’s Nurseries in the canton of Bern.
Ziegler said the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to drastically reconsider their garden space, fueling a new yearning for home gardens that offer both form and function.
“People want pollinators, people try to become natives,” Ziegler said. “And that’s great, there’s always a program promoting that and that’s good for Pennsylvania.”
Beyond native plants — which can withstand the cold and provide nectar and shelter for local wildlife — some homeowners are also looking for flashy exotic plants, as well as food producers, Ziegler said.
“People are looking for plants that have a purpose, like a pollinator, or something that feeds them — apple trees, blueberries, raspberries — or they’re just looking for something really cool,” Ziegler said.
Blooming pink dogwoods have become his nursery’s top sellers in recent years, Ziegler said, and fruit trees like apple trees are out of stock as soon as they arrive.
Indoor plants are also selling very well, according to Sandra Frey, owner of Frey’s Garden Center in Womelsdorf.
Frey’s has only been open for a few weeks, but as the season picks up, Frey said she expects to sell a lot of succulents, basket ferns and foliage plants, in line with recent trends. medicinal plants that can improve indoor air quality.
Even an industry-wide price increase has done little to deter customers looking to upgrade their property, Ziegler said.
He said people are willing to spend money once reserved for holidays to spruce up their gardens and prepare for any future emergencies by growing their own fruits and vegetables.
Bruce Denlinger, manager of Esbenshade Garden Centers and Greenhouses, Brecknock Township, Lancaster County, Mohnton, said he had also seen customers keen to buy handy plants this year and last year.
“Foliage is still strong, succulents are really strong, edibles have been really strong for the past two years since COVID hit and people are staying home and trying to grow their own food,” Denlinger said.
Denlinger noted that pollinators and native plants are also good sellers.
He said the recent collapse of bee populations nationwide is fueling a trend of environmental awareness among plant enthusiasts and novices.
Frey thinks people spending more time on their own properties have turned many homeowners into novice gardeners.
“I think people needed bliss and therapy outside (of their properties) to deal with everything they were hearing in the media,” Frey said.
Landscapers are also benefiting from increased demand for landscaping and landscaping projects, said Shawn Sancinella, owner of Sanci’s Landscaping in Exeter Township.
Sancinella said demand is strong despite rising material costs.
“People are still spending money,” Sancinella said. “The calls and emails keep coming.”
He said much of the current demand is fueled by the continuation of projects started by homeowners at the height of the pandemic.
“Everyone tried to get a pool installed last year and the year before,” Sancinella said. “They had to wait years, one or two years. Companies were so behind they couldn’t get products. They had a mass of people trying to put stuff up so they could use their backyard.
That shortage of landscaping supplies drove up prices, as well as demand, Sancinella said, as many willing-to-spend customers competed for limited project slots.
“People were realizing that they could have most of their vacations at home for 365 days,” said Tom Wambaugh, president of Waterfall Gardens Landscape, Mohnton.
Sancinella said prices for lumber, stone and other landscaping materials peaked last year, although rising fuel costs this year have also affected the industry.
He said transporting supplies has become more expensive, along with gas and oil for lawn care equipment.
Sancinella said he thinks the trend is likely to continue through this year, but inflation, rising gas costs and rising mortgage rates could depress demand next year.
“The way things are going, if the prices don’t go down, I think people are going to sit on their money next year,” he said.
Still, interest remains strong in improved landscaping and upscale outdoor living spaces, said Linda Conelly, communications manager at Connelly Lawn & Garden Inc., Spring Township.
“Requests for low-voltage lighting, fire pits, soothing water features and patios keep our staff busy,” Connelly said.
Privacy plantings have also been popular, Connelly said, as more people turn to their backyards for refuge and comfort.
“Rather than traditional fencing, many customers are opting for live hedges and natural barriers that also serve as habitat and food for regional wildlife,” Connelly said.
Another recent trend noted by Connelly is a growing need for more intensive landscape maintenance – beyond the usual spring cleaning and mulching.
Working families are busier than ever with children on their feet, and more seniors are aging in place,” Connelly said. “This has led to a greater demand for assistance with routine tasks like weeding, pruning and general garden maintenance.”
Connelly noted a final trend: a wealth of meaningful relationships between gardeners and landscapers, and clients grateful for access to the backyard at nature’s soothing pace.
“A senior client sent us a note after a visit in the spring that said, ‘Your crew are truly a breath of fresh air in this sea of turmoil,’ and it really meant a lot to us,” Connelly said.