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When garden grows, the money flows
Retail centers, nurseries enter crucial sales season
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Kayla Elliott talks to a customer about the selection of flowers at the Lowe's Garden Center. - photo by Tom Reed

For garden centers and nurseries, this is the equivalent of the Christmas season to retailers.

The independent garden centers in many cases are facing a critical year.

"For some of them, they've got to make it right now or they're not going to make it at all," said Billy Skaggs, Hall County extension agent. "During the months of March, April and May, when folks are in that planting mood, the retail garden centers have to hit it hard."

But Skaggs said that improving rainfall totals over the winter and days of picturesque weather ahead have put gardeners in a buying mood.

"Most growers are excited about the prospects of spring," Skaggs said.

Polly Licciardi moved to Hall County a year ago from central Florida. This is her first spring that she has been able to devote her attention to flowering plants.

On Friday, she was shopping with her 7-month-old daughter, Anna, at Lowe's Home Improvement Center in Gainesville. "I'm so used to having flowers," she said as she quizzed the garden center workers about the varieties of plants.

Opal Peeples recently moved into a 92-year-old home in the New Holland area that belonged to her late mother.

"I'm hoping I can get some grass seed growing," Peeples said as she pushed her shopping car through the store.

Kayla Elliott, a customer service representative in the garden center, said business at Lowe's has been busy with gardeners looking for spring plants and the ingredients to feed and fertilize them.

"On a day like this, we have lots of customers," said Elliott on Friday when a bright sun was peering through the open-air garden area of Lowe's. The garden center has labeled plants that require less watering, which has been an issue during the past three years of drought.

Other retailers, such as Jaemor Farm Market at Alto, said demand was heavy for ornamental and fruit trees. "We're getting in a load of blueberry plants today and they can be planted anytime January through April," said Judah Echols of Jaemor. He said they had already begun to run low on some varieties of trees.

"Folks want to know lots about fruit trees, such as how to prune, fertilize and spray them," Echols said.

He said the family, which has a large peach and apple orchard, got into the tree sales business when it had extra trees left over after planting in the orchard.

The next event on the gardening calendar is planting vegetable gardens, which generally takes place in mid-April after the last frost.

"We've had more interest in food garden and growing fruits and vegetables," Skaggs said. "Our phones have been ringing off the hook with people wanting information on vegetables, fruit trees and blueberries."

Echols said his family farm market's stock of tomato plants was just beginning to arrive, but added that there had been a brisk business in cold weather vegetables such as cabbage and collards.

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