Industry bracing itself for severe drought as dry winter takes toll

The threat of drought has forced garden centres to stock plants that require less watering in an attempt to keep their sales up.

The horticulture industry is preparing itself for the worst drought in a century by making wholesale changes to what it sells and how it operates to keep up sales. Garden centres in areas facing hosepipe bans will offer more alpine and arid plants to reduce the impact of a drought on sales as forecasters predict that only well above average rainfall in coming weeks will ease the situation. The Environment Agency is likely to introduce more hosepipe bans this month, especially in the South East, where in some places winter rainfall is at its lowest since the 1920-22 drought. Bans have hit 2.7 million people in Kent and Sussex since August. Another 700,000 people in the South East have water restrictions. Kent-based Coolings Nursery director Paul Cooling said: “If customers are aware they can’t water their plants once they’ve planted them, then they’re not going to buy many. They won’t want to plant them and then watch them die.” Director James Evans of Ruxley Manor garden centre in Sidcup said: “If the bans come in this month, it will put people off buying plants. We know it’s going to happen. We need to turn every negative into an positive sales opportunity.” Landscapers will have to spend more on preparing ground ahead of planting to avoid huge losses ahead of the predicted drought, said Palmstead Nurseries marketing manager Nick Coslett: “They need to do more through mulching to give plants a better chance. If the ground is well prepared, there should be enough water to see plants through a drought.” Brighton & Hove City Council will save water this year by not having any hanging baskets. Hosepipe maker Hozelock is launching a 24-hour helpline on 1 April to combat public confusion about potential hosepipe bans. Suffolk firm Sovereign Turf has consulted its Portuguese sister firm to create a new turf product that requires less watering than traditional grass, according to representative David Waring.

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