The leader of a grower tour to the USA has highlighted the dramatic changes in bedding plant production that have taken place in America, leading to a return of hand transplanting as large containers take almost universal precedence over pack products.
WD Smith director Michael Smith jointly led the Horticultural Development Company (HDC) and British Protected Ornamentals Association-backed seasonal plant study tour to the North American east coast. He said on tours undertaken 20 years ago, automation and transplanting were everywhere. But now hand transplanting is back and workers on nurseries everywhere were making up hanging baskets.
However, he told Horticulture Week, unlike the UK, nurseries in the USA and their retail customers appear to have missed out on the market for higher-value plug plants, with the focus instead on providing container-based "instant" solutions for the end customer.
"They've gone too far and missed the opportunity of selling high-value jumbo pack lines," said Smith, who described the lack of pack bedding at the nurseries visited as "frightening". The tour included visits to 14 nurseries with internal transport and organisational costs for the tour funded by the HDC.
The US nurseries visited included Bell Nursery, which runs a pay-by-scan system for retailer Home Depot and category manages the plants across all the retail chain's 500 stores.
Growers also saw examples of basket refills allowing customers to top-up their existing containers with new plants. A similar service was launched by Jersey Plants Direct last month whereby top-up plants in biodegradable inserts arrive by post for insertion in hanging baskets, containers or trough.Market contrast - Changes in pack bedding
US reports suggest that the pack bedding market has dropped by $15m since 2005. By contrast, in the UK, which has introduced higher-value larger bedding plugs, pack bedding remains an important sector, supported by a core of knowledgeable gardening consumers who form the majority of sales.
Nevertheless, the sector recognises there is a change in demographics and decreasing space for gardening in new homes in particular, driving demand for near-mature plants, ready to offer immediate colour and structure.