Houseplants were up 5.50 per cent while sales of outdoor plants fell -13.76 per cent. Clothing sales were up 9.16 per cent compared with the same month in 2014 and catering was up 5.87 per cent. Sundries were down 10-15 per cent and the month overall was down about 5-7 per cent. Year to date figures are flat.
GCA chief executive Iain Wylie said: "This time last year we experienced some fantastic weather, which led to some impressive sales figures at the garden centres. It was always going to be tough to beat this year as the great British weather is so unpredictable so we have seen sales of plants rise and fall throughout the month.
"When our traditional categories are being affected like this it’s great to see sales of our non-traditional categories pick up the pace. Despite the rain it looks like garden centre customers made sure they were kitted out in the latest gear and stopped off at cafés and restaurants during their visits for a spot of lunch, dinner or a cuppa and cake."
During the month food hall and farm shop sales reached 2.88 per cent up.
Ben Thompson, director at Garsons Esher and Titchfield, said: "Catering continues to grow at our Titchfield centre, where our restaurant was refurbished just over a year ago. March sales were up, restaurant sales achieved a 16% growth year on year for 2014 to 15.
"The improved offer has driven site visitor numbers up, with general food and butchery sales performing very well also."
Tammy Woodhouse, nanaging director at Millbrook Garden Centres, said: "We have actively targeted to grow our clothing sales this year having seen some good growth last year. We benchmarked ourselves against other similar sized centres using the BoT and realised there were opportunities out there. Using the BoT we then contacted these centres, for example St Peter’s in Worcestershire.
"They shared with us the suppliers and sales they were getting from each area. Using this information and working with AIS we have introduced new clothing ranges and given this area more space which has resulted in increased sales.
St Peter’s Garden Centre saw sales of clothing rise 32.26 per cent during March.
Dennis Espley, managing director at Squires Garden Centre, said: "It [March] was a disappointing month in all gardening categories, particularly sundries, trees and shrubs. There was encouraging interest in furniture and BBQs, particularly when there was a sunny day. Catering and gifts performed well, particularly on Mother’s Day weekend. Fortunately trading since Easter Monday has been excellent."
Julian Winfield, chief executive at Haskins Garden Centres, said: "Plant sales in March were ok. Looking at our largest centre, Haskins Ferndown, they were down 10 per cent, but the weather last year was better. However, if you look at our average plant sales over the last five years, Ferndown were down four per cent and substantially down on sales in 2011, which suggests the trend is down.
"It is still early and I am encouraged with what has happened so far after a good gardening season last year, but we never know until mid-June."
Through sharing information and its inspection programme, the GCA helps members to achieve high standards in customer service, plant quality and reliability.
Will Armitage, GCA chairman, said: "Again the weather has put a slight dampener on what is proving to be a fantastic start to this year’s season. The general election may put a bit of a downer on customer confidence in the run up to polling day, but as we all know, if the weather is on our side, we’ll be busy."