Drought orders and extra hosepipe bans will bring more misery to gardeners and could cost the industry up to £600m in sales this year.
Sutton & East Surrey Water this week became the first supplier since 1995 to obtain a drought order. Its customers will be banned from watering all gardens, allotments, parks and sports grounds from 27 May.
Southern Water and Mid Kent Water are close to winning drought orders, while the Environment Agency is urging Thames Water to seek one immediately and for Essex and Suffolk Water to introduce a hosepipe ban.
HTA representative Erica Harper said that while garden centres were classed as market gardens and exempt from drought orders, customers needed to know what they could do. The HTA is sending an information leaflet to its members.
She said the association predicts the water shortages will cost the industry between £300m and £600m, with bedding plant sales likely to drop by over 20 per cent.
Harper added: “It is bad news. All retailers can do is source water butts on the grey market because it’s going to be the only way people can water plants.”
Garden centres in the drought order area confirmed they are concerned about sales.
Partner Celia Robe of Wallington-based Flittons Nursery & Plant Centre said: “A big part of our business is hanging baskets and bedding plants. I think people will be cautious buying them. I don’t want to have to think about it.”
Reigate Garden Centre planteria manager Jason Lewin said: “The next few weeks will give us some idea of what people are going to do — sales may stay very good because the British gardener is resourceful. After that, we will have to wait and see.”
The Environment Agency says the drought is extending into Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex and Suffolk. It has warned that formal restrictions on spray irrigation may be imposed.Its spring update of drought prospects concludes that south-east England faces “the most severe drought of the past hundred years”.
The Met Office says it is unlikely there will be sufficient rainfall to alleviate the shortages.
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