Many nurseries have sold out of spring bedding ahead of Easter after the best early sales for several years, meaning there might be a colour gap or a risk of frost damage on early introductions of summer bedding this season.
Alton Garden Centre director Andy Bunker confirms: "Bedding is under pressure across the board because sales started early." He adds that 60 out of 200 orders were not available from one nursery with some begonias, which started early, nemesia, petunia, viola, Senetti and geranium selling out.
Porters sales and marketing manager Natalie Porter says spring bedding sold out by the second week of April. "Everything has gone through quickly but we're telling people to wait for the summer stuff because we're conscious there might be frosts," she adds.
"We sent an email to all our customers saying we don't plan to move anything forward because we don't want people to have to buy plants twice. People will still plant and be naive, and our ethos is based around people's plants doing well." Porter reports that sales have been "stonking". Geraniums go out this week and summer bedding in force from week 16. She adds that the nursery has sold 12,000 extra one-litre Senetti this spring.
After the busiest early April for at least five years, Bunker says there are delays on delivery throughout the industry, with suppliers giving lead times of up to five weeks. "You can't just turn it on, even if it is something like bedding." Even if growers plant new plugs now it will be six weeks before product comes through. "There is a supply issue, clearly, two weeks into the season." April bedding is sold out, he adds, and May bedding is not ready.
Beckworth Emporium's Mike Easom says sales have been "bonkers", with summer bedding plants starting to go out with frost warning labels. He adds: "In the next two weeks everything will be in transition because everything will run out." In other retailers he has seen frost damage on tips of bedding and tomato plants and he warns that high wastage is possible at this time of year.
The season is two weeks ahead of 2016, when Easter was two weeks earlier, says Easom. He adds that 14in hanging baskets are difficult to get as container and instant garden sales rocket. Mother's Day turnover was three times above budget and the weekend before Easter nearly matched that.
Bunker says the situation benefits his "peripheral" suppliers outside his six-to-eight main suppliers, who are receiving weekly orders rather than the usual one or two a year in an average season. Just-in-time ordering "doesn't work when the weather and season is like it is", he adds. "It doesn't allow for 30% increases in trade." Economists believe "you can't manage boom or bust and at the moment we're in a bit of a boom. The good thing is providing stock is good you will sell anything as long as there is colour." If growers and retailers maintain good communications they will overcome any problems, he says.
Michael Smith, director at bedding grower WD Smith, has sold out of the plants he wants to sell out and expects a "massive week" around Easter. He has also transplanted more vegetable plants than usual, expecting higher demand. He hopes signs in garden centres and "common sense" will mean summer bedding is protected from frost. He has made it available at the same time as in 2016 and there were no frosts after it came on then. "If I don't put it on my availability list someone else will and I will miss out on sales."
The annual Groen-Direkt spring days event in Boskoop, Holland, earlier this month saw a strong economy plus "very kind weather in recent weeks" lead to many growers selling all their stock. But Groen-Direkt's Sytse Berends adds a word of caution: "If this weather continues there may be a lack of some plants later on during the spring. This is something we haven't seen for many years."
JTF senior buyer Gez Smith says: "The only challenge looming is that stocks of spring bedding will be depleted shortly and the summer bedding isn't quite ready yet, so there may be a week or two when there is a shortage of pack bedding."
On the supply side, Garden Industry Manufacturers Association director Vicky Nuttall says: "The warm weather has led to excellent trading over the last few weeks with suppliers rising to the challenge and working flat out to meet the peak-season demand. There are, however, many instances where garden centres are being caught out because they've not placed or confirmed orders early enough.
"I've just visited one supplier who is working round the clock to fulfil orders but they are still receiving calls today (Monday) from centres expecting deliveries in time for Easter weekend despite being fully aware of the order cut-off dates. Whilst suppliers build in slack to deal with these circumstances, retailers need to acknowledge their responsibility to support the supply chain by providing earlier confirmation to secure stock."
Amazon has said sales of gardening products rose by 67% in the first three months of 2017, compared to the same period in 2016.