Texas’ Record Drought Stressing Its Green Industry

Weather has been extreme around much of the United States. But Texas would likely win a state-to-state game of one-upmanship. The year began with record freezes and ice storms. That was followed by an unseasonably dry spring, which quickly turned into a searing summer that had Texans measuring the number of days over 105 degrees instead of the usual measure of over-100 days.

Those late-winter ice storms turned out to be the main precipitation for the year. Every storm system that has approached Texas has dried up just shy of the border or swerved away like recent Tropical Storm Lee. Lee sent rain up to the edge of Louisiana’s border with Texas, but turned back to the rest of the Southeast.

Texas has been in what the U.S. Drought Monitor deems an Extreme Drought. Even a quick look at the Drought Monitors’ map in early September shows Texas’ dilemma. The extreme drought region, which is a gloomy dark brown on the map, seems to follow the Texas border, although the drought’s panhandle takes in about half of Oklahoma. The drought has resulted in hundreds of fires that have burned more than 3.5 million acres so far in 2011, many of the worst making news over Labor Day weekend.

The Houston Chronicle printed an article in late August predicting that more than 60 million trees would die as a result of the drought in the next two years in the Houston region alone.

How Are Texas Garden Centers Faring?

The Texas green industry has taken a hit, but not as hard as the industries in Colorado and Georgia did in recent years. Georgia had a statewide watering ban on landscaping, which in the end drove more than 25 percent of its growers out of business and shuttered many garden centers. In Colorado, the broadcast news began airing footage of garden retailers watering their stock during its drought, creating a highly hostile atmosphere for garden centers.

Texas has had several advantages. First, although spring was dry, its mild weather attracted consumers, leading to strong sales. “Early spring was record breaking,” says Merrideth Jiles, general manager of The Great Outdoors in Austin.

That assessment was widely reported from stores around Texas, with the exception of Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg. Wildseed Farms is a tourist-driven business in spring, when the region’s wildflowers blanket the landscape. Owner John Thomas says there has been very little rain since September 2010, which led to very few wildflowers this year. “It’s like Vermont not having fall color in October,” Thomas says.

Another advantage is that the state’s various water boards are accustomed to drought and many have graduated water restrictions, most of them voluntary. Also, unlike Colorado, so far the Texas media has turned to growers and retailers for perspectives, not profiling them as water-hogging monsters.

That doesn’t mean the danger doesn’t exist. Dallas Morning News Garden Editor Mariana Greene reports that a local news station has begun stories on the biggest residential water users, with local billionaires getting the bad-guy treatment.

“They’ve never done that kind of story in previous droughts. So, for this one station, at least, they are playing it as a moral failure by using so much water,” Greene says.

After the first surge in March and early April, the dry and hot weather bit deep into retail sales. Houston-based Buchanan’s Native Plants saw May sales plummet almost 30 percent compared with 2010, while one San Antonio garden center watched its sales drop almost 40 percent.

Most retailers interviewed for this story say that while July was the hottest on record, sales recovered somewhat before dropping again in August. Buchanan’s sales were up 3 percent, while The Great Outdoors were down 3 percent.

“I’m not really sure why July wasn’t worse,” Jiles said. “It was just as hot – no big sales or anything. Until August rolled around, this July was the hottest month ever in Austin, ever.”

Texas Growers Feel The Effects Even More Than Retailers

If retail sales come to a halt, the loss of sales trickles back to suppliers. So how are they weathering the drought?

With difficulty, growers tell us.

P.J. Ellison of Ellisons Greenhouses in Brenham reports that sales are much lower than normal, creating some panic among her peers.

One nursery based in San Antonio says that his retail orders have dropped, but not as much as the orders for landscaping or rewholesale have. A bigger issue for the grower, Mortellaro Nursery, is water.

“We have had to cut our pumping by 30 percent so far,” says James Harden Jr., vice president of operations and sales at Mortellaro. “This has resulted in our purchasing over 40 acre-feet of water so far this year with an anticipated purchase of 30 to 40 acre-feet more in order to stay under the pumping cap this year. If we hit Stage 3 – it will be within a week or so – we will need to cut pumping by 35 percent. And if we hit Stage 4 we’ll need to cut pumping by 40 percent.”

Even at $600 per acre-foot, cost is only one issue, Harden says. Another is difference between their own pumped water and the purchased water.

“It has different pH and other characteristics,” he says. “As a result, we are not able to adjust pH and other factors as well with the blended water. The purchased water is also causing algae problems that require more work filtering the water. All of this increases daily labor and material costs.”

Ironically, Harden’s efforts to conserve water have led to government headaches.

“Last week we were visited by Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for dust issues,” he says. “This is something that will become more of a problem in the future. We are required to waste water on the roads to control dust. This is water, a truck and a driver that could be used caring for plants, but instead must be wasted on gravel roads. Dust regulations are something the EPA is starting to look into implementing."

The Need To Save Water May Create Future Supply Shortages

Retailers are eternally optimistic. Every retailer interviewed says that a couple of rain events will turn matters around. Buchanan’s comment is representative: “I am sure once it rains we will be back on track. Maybe even finish even with last year (which was phenomenal!). Everyone will need to replace plants this fall and next spring.”

Yet, she and the others may find fewer plants are available. While not all growers have been formally restricted in their water use, they are still cutting back voluntarily.

“I have no legal restrictions since I have my own well and live outside of a municipal area,” says Cynthia Meredith of The Herb Cottage, a small grower in Hallettsville, a rural community about halfway between Houston and San Antonio. “But I worry about my well and have let a couple of beds die out so I don’t have to water them, thus saving the available water for my sales crops.”

Mortellaro has dumped plants it felt would be too expensive to grow and cut back on other crops. It has also packed containers close together to ensure that water goes into the pots and not the gravel beds. "This will limit fall sales if we get rain because crops will not be available to sell," Harden says.

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Texas’ Record Drought Stressing Its Green Industry

  1. If this drought proves to be a 8-10 year event as it was in the 1950’s here in Texas all bets are off in our Nursery business. Consumers we talk to are worn out trying to water in their yards complying with water restrictions and long tern weather predictions are that we may not get any significant rain for many more months. Fall sales? What Fall? It’s still near 100F here every day just as it has been for months. Even cacti hate this weather! :)

More From Marketing...

January 27, 2016

Costa Farms’ Season Premier Provides Sneak Peek At New Varieties For 2017

Costa Farms presented the 2016 Season Premier at its 2-acre Trial Gardens in Miami, FL, in the third week of January. The event showcases varieties from breeders of all sizes to growers and major retail buyers, providing a look at what genetics are coming to the market and how they’ll perform in retail settings and in the landscape, when consumers bring them home. The mild winter climate in South Florida allows Costa Farms’ Research and Development Department to simulate the spring growing conditions of various regions in the country. Because each group of visitors to Costa Farms’ Trial Gardens wants to see what the new plants look like in the environments that matter to them, Season Premier offers several areas within the Trial Gardens that highlight different ways to look at the wealth of new varieties. The New Product Showcase offers a way for retailers to see how plants will […]

Read More

January 26, 2016

Beekenkamp And Danziger Partner To Distribute Poinsettias In North America

Danziger is continuing to expand its portfolio of products to the U.S. market with the addition of poinsettia cuttings of Beekenkamp’s varieties.

Read More
Houseplant Featured Image

January 21, 2016

How To Improve Consumer Interest In Indoor Foliage Plants

Researchers discover why there is decreasing consumer demand for indoor foliage plants and suggest ways to overcome hurdles to purchasing.

Read More
Latest Stories

January 27, 2016

Costa Farms’ Season Premier Provides Sneak Peek A…

Costa Farms presented the 2016 Season Premier at its 2-acre Trial Gardens in Miami, FL, in the third week of January. The event showcases varieties from breeders of all sizes to growers and major retail buyers, providing a look at what genetics are coming to the market and how they’ll perform in retail settings and in the landscape, when consumers bring them home. The mild winter climate in South Florida allows Costa Farms’ Research and Development Department to simulate the spring growing conditions of various regions in the country. Because each group of visitors to Costa Farms’ Trial Gardens wants to see what the new plants look like in the environments that matter to them, Season Premier offers several areas within the Trial Gardens that highlight different ways to look at the wealth of new varieties. The New Product Showcase offers a way for retailers to see how plants will […]

Read More

January 26, 2016

Beekenkamp And Danziger Partner To Distribute Poinsetti…

Danziger is continuing to expand its portfolio of products to the U.S. market with the addition of poinsettia cuttings of Beekenkamp’s varieties.

Read More
Houseplant Featured Image

January 21, 2016

How To Improve Consumer Interest In Indoor Foliage Plan…

Researchers discover why there is decreasing consumer demand for indoor foliage plants and suggest ways to overcome hurdles to purchasing.

Read More
Bee On Flower

December 29, 2015

Scotts Miracle-Gro To Fund 50 Pollinator Gardens In 201…

In an effort to help combat the loss of pollinator habitats in recent years, the Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. announced plans in mid-December for a year-long effort to improve consumer education about pollinators and promote the creation of backyard and urban habitats where they can thrive. The “Pollinator Promise” will fund the establishment of at least 50 pollinator gardens throughout the U.S. in 2016, as part of the company’s GRO1000 community gardening initiative. The GRO1000 initiative, now in its sixth year, partners with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Pollinator Stewardship Council, The Franklin Park Conservatory, and others, to promote the availability of additional grants for gardens and green spaces throughout the country. “The importance of pollinators is unquestionable and it is easier than most people think to create a habitat where they can thrive,” says Jim King, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Scotts Miracle-Gro. “The Pollinator Promise is […]

Read More
Viraj Puri (left) and Eric Hadley (right) of Gotham Greens with Martha Stewart (middle)

December 17, 2015

Congratulations To The 2015 Martha Stewart American Mad…

Each year, Martha Stewart and the editors of Martha Stewart Living honor American entrepreneurs and small business owners for their dedication to producing innovative, high-quality products. This year, three companies from the green industry made the list.

Read More
Laura Drotleff

December 8, 2015

Develop New Habits To Change Your Greenhouse Business

Grower Homework: Don’t let your product mix become habit. Opportunities abound for the horticulture industry to evolve its reach beyond traditional plants. People have an inherent need to be in and around nature, and they’re looking for new ways to use plants, even if they don’t know it yet. Let’s study trends and habits to get ahead of the curve and create some new demand. Share your ideas by writing to me at ldrotleff@meistermedia.com or tweet @Laura_GG_TGC. Over the past few years since I came back to work full time, I’ve been studying habits, and admittedly trying to change my own. As a full-time, working, married mother, I’m still getting used to the challenges of “having it all,” and I’ve reluctantly realized that changing my habits is an absolute must to maintain a sustainable level of sanity and success. Thus, I’ve been consuming books about habit, and how it plays […]

Read More

November 23, 2015

Content Marketing: Buzzword Or Here To Stay?

A solid content marketing strategy provides valuable information that educates your consumers and builds trust.

Read More
Gotham Greens Chicago Rooftop Greenhouse

November 23, 2015

Gotham Greens Expands Into Chicago With New Rooftop Gre…

Touted as the world’s largest rooftop greenhouse, the company’s fourth facility is its first outside of New York and will produce nearly 10 million annual crops of local, premium-quality leafy greens and herbs.

Read More

October 21, 2015

Dümmen Orange Creates Fashion With Flowers At Fashion W…

As a feature sponsor for Fashion Week Columbus in Ohio, Dümmen Orange North America made a statement with its flower genetics in the spotlight. This was the first time Dümmen Orange partnered with Fashion Week Columbus in its 2015 events, held the week of October 3-10, 2015. Fashion Week Columbus is a non-profit organization showcasing local and emerging fashion designers while providing scholarships to fashion design students. Each year, Fashion Week Columbus hosts a week of fashion-related events to feature local talent in the Columbus, Ohio area. “A leader in the floriculture industry, Dümmen Orange is committed to breeding, distributing and promoting superior flower genetics,” says Dümmen Orange Operations Manager Kate Santos. “To do this, we strive to be in touch with contemporaries in the lifestyle industries. A large focus of this mission is to translate trends from fashion.” With more than 500 working fashion designers in the Columbus market, […]

Read More

October 4, 2015

ePlantSource Adds 5 New Partner Companies

ePlantSource has announced an additional five companies that have been added to its partner distribution list. Not only do the additional partners offer more supplier options to ePlantSource customers, but the website now also provides a more diverse product list with the addition of bulbs, clematis and many new varieties. New partners added for the 2015 – 2016 season: A.D.R. Bulbs Lennon Farm Greenhouses Micandy Gardens Pacific Growers Roseville Farms “We make it a priority to respond to our customers, and we have had many requests for additional options and a more diverse product line, so we are continually evaluating suppliers that work well with our non-traditional approach to the sale of live goods,” says Gary Falkenstein, President and CEO of ePlantSource. “We feel that it is good for our company, our customers and the industry as a whole to keep looking forward and seeing how we can improve and expand how […]

Read More

October 2, 2015

How To Make Your Website More Google-Friendly

During a presentation at Cultivate’15 this past July, Katie Dubow of the Garden Media Group offered several tips on how you can use search engine optimization (SEO) tactics and Google’s search features and updates to your advantage.

Read More

September 28, 2015

Filmmakers Release “Field To Vase, The Documentar…

“The Field to Vase Dinner Tour is a series of meals set on flower farms across the country. Each dinner is curated by a local chef and floral designer, highlighting the region’s produce and flowers. This is the story of Santa Cruz, California.” These opening lines introduce “Field to Vase: Santa Cruz,” a new documentary filmed, written and produced by the Los Angeles-based husband-and-wife team, Hyunsoo Moon and Haejung Kim. This past June, Haejung and Moon traveled to Santa Cruz in pursuit of a visual narrative that had captured their creative imaginations. They were enamored with the storytelling potential of the Field to Vase Dinner Tour and wanted to document their observations on film. The result of their efforts is “Field to Vase: Santa Cruz,” a documentary about the American grown flower movement and the people involved in the floral renaissance that is taking place on farms and in flower […]

Read More
Gerbera Revolution Series (Kieft Seed)

September 23, 2015

Join SAF And Other Growers To #PetalItForward And Sprea…

Next month, the Society of American Florists (SAF) will tap into the popularity of random acts of kindness with its latest public relations campaign, "Petal It Forward." Find out how you can join SAF and other growers to take part in this campaign and spread happiness with the power of flowers.

Read More
Retailers declined a coupon deal for hanging baskets because of timing

September 19, 2015

Retailer To Grower: Why Aren’t Garden Stores Letting Gr…

Have you ever sat around at a family gathering and heard someone recount a story from your childhood, except knowing your own version of the story, it’s something that casts an entirely new light on everything you think you experienced? It seems like that dynamic happens a lot between growers and retailers. Both sides know the same story, but each version is so different, it’s like two unconnected stories. This came to mind when I was talking with a regional grower, Elmer Grosser, who owns Cincinnati-based Diefenbacher Greenhouses. The operation serves about 50 customers — an even mix of local garden stores and landscapers. Grosser first came to my attention last fall, when one of his customers, Chris McKeown of Bloomin’ Garden Centre, told me I needed to call Grosser, because he was a great example of a grower who cares about retail. When Grosser and I connected, he was […]

Read More
eMailMarketing feature image

July 23, 2015

Is eMail Dead?

Email as a marketing technique may seem outdated, but when done well, it is still an effective way to share content and market your brand.

Read More
HGTV HOME CAST 2015

July 22, 2015

Cultivate’15: Keynote Nancy Fire Says Use Passion…

In the second keynote presentation at Cultivate’15, Nancy Fire, founder and creative director of Design Works International, discussed how the horticulture industry can capitalize on the latest design and lifestyle trends. Fire works with companies to help bring their designs to the next level, and she has expertise with textiles and surface design, market analysis and corporate rebranding. She was appointed as design director for HGTV HOME in 2011. Fire says customers today are interested in companies that show passion for what they do. That, combined with following the general direction of trends and maintaining a brand, are what will keep horticulture businesses relevant to their customers. A trend isn’t just a passing fad, Fire says, but rather, it indicates that something is developing or changing in a certain direction. Plants are important to consumers today, and fit into current trends, both inside and outside the home, Fire says. “I don’t […]

Read More
LuxFlora logo feature image

July 21, 2015

Luxflora Launches With Cultivate Speaker Event, New Web…

A new organization for women in horticulture that aims to change the way consumers think about flowers, launched at Cultivate’15 by sponsoring Ketty Maisonrouge, a marketing expert, who presented “How To Create A Luxury Brand.” Luxflora recently launched its website, as well as a page on LinkedIn, to facilitate networking among women in horticulture. The organization is working on next steps, including setting up a board of directors and officers. Updates and information on future events will be available at the Luxflora website as they are scheduled. Read about Luxflora’s mission and what it hopes to accomplish in “Luxflora Wants To Create A Lifestyle Movement.” In the session during Cultivate, Ketty Maisonrouge, owner of KM & Company, adjunct professor of luxury strategy at the Columbia University Business School and the author of “The Luxury Alchemist,” presented her ideas and expertise on luxury strategy marketing, and how it applies to horticulture. […]

Read More

July 15, 2015

New Products Featured At Cultivate’15

A multitude of new products were on display at Cultivate’15, held in Columbus, Ohio. Attendees were given a first-hand look at new plant introductions coming to market, as well as innovative hardgoods, technology and equipment. One of the new options for varieties featured at Cultivate’15 was Sporticulture, winner of the 2015 Fresh Ideas Award. Sporticulture offers access to major sports leagues’ licensed products and packing. Team logos can appear on containers and tags, allowing growers and retailers to benefit from the loyalty customers have for their favorite team. Some of the featured plant varieties included Jolt interspecific Dianthus, from PanAmerican Seed, plus six new varieties from Sakata, including ColorWorks petunias, ‘Dragon’s Breath’ Celosia, PartyTime Coleus, ‘Proud Mari’ Marigold, SunPatiens Impatiens and Vitalia Vinca. Emerald Coast Growers featured its Marsala-toned plants, as a nod to Pantone’s Color of the Year. The collection included Pennisetum messiacum ‘Red Buttons,’ Pennisetum ‘Rubrum and ‘Eaton […]

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]