Working Around 2021 Plant Shortages

Now that business is starting to return to normal, the task of replacing damaged foliage from months of neglect has become one of the biggest challenges since COVID-19 started. Never in my two decades in this industry, have I experienced such a tropical dilemma of plant shortages and depleted plant inventory. 

For the past few weeks, I’ve been contacting greenhouses that I’ve frequented for years and I can’t even get an availability sheet emailed to me. At first, I took it personally until I called a good friend who manages a garden center in North Carolina. They assured me they are also having the same plant shortages. With Florida being one of the top producing states for ornamental foliage, I am dumbfounded at the lack of supply. 

What’s going on? When I only need a few plants, I’ll typically shop at local chain stores to get a quick replacement.  But lately, I’ve noticed even their selection of indoor varieties has diminished.

While at Ace Hardware, I asked the assistant manager about the plant shortages situation.  She told me some of their sources have a two-year backlog for production due to COVID-19. 

Then something else occurred to me. In December, the largest nursery in Northeast Florida discontinued growing all their ornamental plants in favor of medicinal marijuana.  What’s ironic, is while I was working at that very greenhouse in 1996, I remember vividly the box salesman commenting to me, “The owner is going to make a killing when marijuana is legalized.” 

Pretty sure I chuckled out loud and may have even rolled my eyes thinking, “Yeah right, that will be the day.” I’m definitely not laughing now. Ever since medicinal marijuana was legalized in Florida, many of the large commercial growers have converted from tropical varieties to that cash crop.

The Northeast Florida nursery alone supplied major chain stores from Miami to Atlanta. With giant buying power from companies like Publix, Lowes and Fresh Market, it’s no wonder there are plant shortages and depleted plant supplies. 

Finding New Suppliers

Even when I reached out to growers that I purchased from in past years, I was told they were struggling to supply current customers and wouldn’t be able to help.  When that list was exhausted, I searched wholesale nurseries. Unfortunately, their websites were often limited and found myself spending a lot of time trying to reach someone only to get the same “unable to help” reply. 

What eventually helped, was using PlantANT which is both a website and app. Once the site confirms you’re in the horticulture business, it’s free to use to search for wholesale nurseries.

I was pleasantly surprised at the level of detail you can find between hybrids, grow pot container size, specs and pictures. The helpful parameters allow you to set nursery distance, location, and create projects lists. The best feature right now is the inventory level icon which is a huge time saver.  The green bar under the leaf shows good to low inventory levels.  

When I called one nursery listed on the site for anthuriums, the sales rep told me to keep checking back on PlantANT since it was an accurate source for knowing when their inventory returned to place an order.

Quick Fixes

Normally, when I would have a lot of plant cuttings from overgrowth, I would add those to the compost pile. Now, I’m saving anything that I can root into new plants. Especially, any type of sansevieria, dracaena, zamiifolia or succulent, since these are some of the easiest cuttings to re-pot.  

Sometimes, you can place the stalks directly into soil after cutting and get it to grow.  I’ve found the best chance for success is to let the cut end dry out for at least a few days, dip in rooting hormone and then pot.

Pothos, which I used to never save, now have several varieties rooting in water to use in accounts. Sometimes, I don’t have success transferring the vines from water to soil so instead, I’ll place a 6” pot of soil under the vines and the pothos will naturally root itself into the pot, eliminating the transfer shock from the vase. 

If any Janet Craig, song of India, warneckeii or lemon lime stems start to get tall, I’ll cut those canes even with, or lower than the other stalks and use those pieces to increase fullness or start new plants.  Another dracaena trick I use is when the shorter canes of a massangeana die out, instead of buying a totally new 4-3-2 corn plant, I’ll find a 3-2 cane at a local nursery and add that to the single cane left. 

My last suggestion for finding plant material would be local landscape nurseries.  The one I use for outside projects also carries tropical foliage such as crotons, rhapis, bromeliads, white birds and arboricola.  With a landscape nursery, the plants may have been grown in full sun or under shade cloths.  A good nursery will have staff that can tell you if the crop was shade grown or not, which will help you decide if the risk of shock is worth it if you transfer the plant indoors to a low-light situation.  

Though finding new plant material at this time is a challenge, I’m doing my best to revitalize as many account plants as possible. What other ways are you finding plant materials?

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

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