Garden centres must stick with plants and do them well despite poor sales this spring, according to HTA business development director Tim Briercliffe.
After B&Q revealed a 16 per cent drop in nursery stock sales in the first quarter, he said: "Plant sales are a real challenge.
"There was a feeling at our council and board meetings that diversification is important in keeping garden centres going. However, there is a strong feeling retailers still have to do plants well, otherwise they will stop being a garden centre. The message is: 'Don't neglect plants just because sales are poor.'"
Briercliffe warned that growers will further reduce the amounts they produce for 2014 after many cut back for 2013. "They will go into 2014 even more cautiously so with cuts in production nurseries can't produce stock to meet peaks," he said.
Although there has been a 71 per cent increase in plant imports since 1999, he said imports have been in decline since the euro strengthened in 2008. Most garden centres are now more reliant on UK stock, he added.
Briercliffe said there are increasing reports of garden centres having difficulty in their relations with banks that are not willing to lend.
He forecast that sales will be down or level on 2012 for most garden centres against a "bad" 2012, so "we should compare 2013 with 2011".
Garden Centre Association chairman Peter Burks said: "May has been a little disappointing. Most people were expecting to be further ahead." He added that centres are cutting staff and overheads and not spending on unnecessary developments.
Buckingham Nurseries general manager Mike Easom said: "Plants have been 40 per cent of sales. I hope the season will extend."
Garden & Leisure's Carol Paris said sales are 17 per cent under budget. Sales were 16 per cent up in May but 2.4 per cent down year to date.
But retailers are looking forward to five weekends in June and no jubilee. Aylett Nurseries' Adam Wigglesworth said the centre was 10 per cent up in May but down for the year.
Garden Centre Association Sales Figures
Category May 2013 Year to date
Houseplants 8% Up 3.7% Down
Outdoor plants 21% Up 8.9% Down
Seeds and bulbs 40% Up 13% Down
Sundries 23% Up 4.8% Down
Furniture and barbecues 26.5% Up 4.9% Down
Pets and aquatics 0.9% Down 2.3% Up
Gifts 0.5% Down 0.03% Up
Hard landscaping 25% Up 12.5% Down
Food 16.5% Up 8.9% Up
Clothing 0.6% Down 0.5% Up
Catering 11.9% Up 6.5% Up
Overall 17.4% Up 2.67% Down