Growers are seeing "cautious" ordering for 2014 after the cold spring of 2013 made retailers rethink how they stock their plants.
Young-plant exhibitors at GroSouth (13 November) said 2014 is bringing new timings on plant sales, making their businesses more difficult to run.
Earley Ornamentals owner Simon Earley said 2014 ordering is "at least a month later" than in 2013. Orders are still "up in the air because none of the multiples or large garden centre chains have committed - they're looking around for cheaper prices".
"One chain has a new tendering process and that's only for one reason - cheaper prices. Buyers are leaving it to the last minute. They're busy with Christmas and I don't think they realise the timescales involved. It means you can be past production dates and you have a problem hitting the week the garden centres wants the plants."
But he agreed with other exhibitors that there is more optimism for 2014 because this year has improved after a poor spring.
Young Plants managing director Alex Newey agreed that orders from multiples to growers are delayed. "It's frustrating because it's out of sync with the rest of the world. In Germany, Holland and North America everything is tied up by October but we won't get full visibility until late January.
"You're forced to adopt crisis management and it seems to be a habit that's becoming the norm. Everyone wants consistency and value for money with good-quality service and you can't do that with last-minute orders."
Newey said the late ordering could be "an indication of oversupply" because "there will always be someone with product available at the last minute. But that doesn't give everyone the opportunity to do a quality job." He said Homebase and Tesco are late but B&Q has ordered now.
But HTA seasonal plants chairman Newey said he has budgeted double-digit growth for 2014, with grower-retailers looking a particularly strong market.
New Place Nurseries sales director Steven Lee said: "We're a little bit under where we'd expect to be normally at this time of the year. A lot of people haven't placed orders because they don't know if they're growing them yet because they haven't got the commitment".
He said The Garden Centre Group's tendering process is ongoing. The group is seeking three-year deals with growers and indicated that after last year's rejected orders and wastage it is reviewing everything.
Roundstone managing director Peter Cook said timing is "when we both think it's right rather than when we've always done it", adding: "The key is working with our customers matching production to demand so it's ready for when they want to buy it."
Pac-Elsner UK agent Anthony Andrews said: "People are cautious after spring 2013. Consumers will not buy too early after last year and one or two prime producers are trying to buy business but all growers face increased costs for fuel and transport. Loss leaders only lead to possible financial problems at a later date."
Workshops deal - Supply-chain relations
The HTA and British Protected Ornamentals Association (BPOA) signed an deal at GroSouth to work together on four supply-chain relations workshops to be held at nurseries in 2014.
Resharpen will lead the events, focusing on negotiating skills for nurseries, many of whom were hit by retailers rejecting orders this cold spring.
The two industry bodies held separate but similar events for bedding growers this autumn but have agreed to hold events in alternate years in future.
The HTA has also added a retail point of view to the BPOA's Code Of Practice launched at the Build Better Business event (HW, 21 October). The HTA seasonal plant conference was due to be held at Young Plants in Warwickshire on 21 November.
HTA seasonal plants chairman Alex Newey told HW earlier this autumn: "The industry needs a moral code of practice. It won't have any teeth but it doesn't need them because something is better than nothing and buying behaviour might just change."