An increase in rainfall and a slight relaxation of outdoor watering restrictions has given a ray of hope to those in the plant and landscape business.
In February, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced an easing of an all-out ban on outdoor watering.
New, professionally installed landscapes can be watered up to three days a week from midnight to 10 a.m. for a period of 10 weeks based on the odd/even schedule. The new schedule will help ensure the survival of new landscape without requiring more water than what is being used under the current 30-day exemption.
Homeowners can water their outdoor plants using a garden hose for 25 minutes every other day.
"For me, the announcement brought a sigh of relief," said Kellie Bowen. She and her husband, Tim, own Full Bloom Nursery in Clermont.
"We have known all along what it was going to take to give the consumer the confidence that if they buy a plant they can keep it alive," she said.
The news was too late for some, according to Hall County Extension Agent Billy Skaggs.
"We’ve had some owner-operators who employed a couple of people, who just folded up," he said, adding that the governor’s decision has kept others from having to follow suit.
"This is the time of year that landscape maintenance contracts are being renewed," Skaggs said. "It was very important that they have some flexibility on watering. If they can’t water, it limits their ability to fulfill their contract."
Mark Fockele of the Fockele Garden Co. said the decision was welcomed by his customers.
"People want to have the confidence that they’ll be able to keep their plants alive until they get established," Fockele said.
He said that in one respect, the landscape industry has failed during the drought to deliver an important message.
"We didn’t emphasize how important plants are to the community," he said. "We’ve made a lot out of how many jobs have been lost and businesses have closed. Aside from aesthetics, plants help lower the temperature, contribute to water quality, air quality, and reduce soil erosion and storm water runoff."
Kellie Bowen said Perdue’s decision on water came at a critical point for her business.
"I don’t know that we would be able to stay in business," she said. "We didn’t have any fall business or winter planting. To us, our spring business is like Christmas to department stores. If we had no spring business, it would be over."
This week, representatives of the urban agriculture industry gained State House passage of a bill that prohibits local government from enacting restrictions on water resources that are more restrictive than state provisions without prior approval from the state Environmental Protection Division.
The urban agriculture industry includes retail garden centers, floriculturists, turf grass and sod growers, the nursery and horticulture industry, landscape architects, landscape installation and maintenance businesses, irrigation contractors, green wholesalers, arborists, florists and golf courses.
The industry has more than $8 billion in annual sales, 7,000 companies and more than 80,000 employees throughout the state.