Garden centres ended 2013 strongly with a five per cent December rise to claw back an overall annual 3.68 per cent sales increase on 2012.
Sales were down by half at Easter after freezing weather hit spring sales, but they have increased each month since, according to Garden Centre Association (GCA) figures. But sales are still well behind 2011 levels, which was 10 per cent up on 2012.
Alton Garden Centre director Andy Bunker said: "Based on last year it was a poor year. Negativity on plants plays into the hands of everything else - secondand third generation sections like Christmas, food hall and concessions. Financially, that drives decisions. But Christmas was good, though we must stay ahead of the game."
Christmas tree sales were static last year, he added, but fell over the past three-to-five years because of competition from street sales and the numbers of artificial trees being sold. Outdoor plant sales were down 1.6 per cent in December while Christmas product sales were 7.5 per cent up.
"The real tree market has dropped between three and five per cent in overall volume annually for the last five years and we're beginning to feel the full effect of artificial trees," said Bunker.
But British Christmas Tree Association secretary Harry Brightwell said, because of reasonable growing and selling weather as well as stable prices, growers sold what they had cut.
Incoming GCA president Will Armitage said Christmas was slightly up on 2012, but added: "It's disappointing 2013 sales are not back up to the heady days of 2011 but it will come because consumer confidence has to come back. We have to evolve with what the customer wants."
He said garden centres have done better than many areas of retail, though the multichannel offers of John Lewis and Next are examples to emulate.
Fermoy's director Alan Murdoch said overall the year was disappointing because of "cautious" buyers. "The farm shop and cafe did well and drove people in but it was difficult to sell them additional lines," he added.
At the three Value House stores where Murdoch is a director, December was good, he added. "That was down to price as we've seen with more people going to Lidl and Aldi.
"We had an uplift in Christmas tree sales, which was down to being very competitive on price. You can go for low sales and high margin or high sales and low margin. But fibreoptic tree sales were good too."