Long-Lifecycle Plant Supply Will Not Meet Demand in 2016

Long-lifecycle plants available this year are already starting to sell out, and those that haven’t sold out will sell out soon, according to Local Plant Source Founder Zac Tolbert.

Long-lifecycle (or LLC) plants typically take anywhere from three to 10 years to grow to a marketable size before they can be sold and are risky propositions for growers during lean times.

“LLC plants can be a large agave, a bonsai tree, a Japanese Maple or an 8-inch Live Oak. They take a long time to get to the size that the market wants. Growers had to plant these materials years before they could know for sure if people would want to buy it, and many just refused to take that risk back in 2008,” Tolbert said. “Red buds — Mexican, Forest Pansy — are a problem right now. Oaks — Monterrys, Live, Red, Shumard — are in short supply. Mexican Sycamores continue to be problem to find right now as well.”

The shortages are another consequence of the Great Recession, during which time many growers completely stopped investing in crops due to immediate financial struggles. It was a period of time when thousands of trees went unsold, entire crops were turned over or thrown out and many growers were closing up shop for good. Nearly every grower drastically reduced the their plantings; many went out of business altogether.

“This is going to be a rough year. Designers and contractors will need to accept smaller plants and alternative species,” Tolbert said.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first year for the shortages, and it won’t be the last year, either. The industry started seeing shortages back in 2013, forcing many landscape designers and contractors to turn to comparable alternatives or accept smaller material. When 100-gallon material is unavailable, 65 gallon and 45 gallon material fills the gap. But moving to smaller materials perpetuates the shortage because there are fewer 45-gallon materials available to grow into next year’s 100-gallon crops.

So the shortages will continue for the foreseeable future — but they won’t last forever. Growers are working to replenish the market supply, and many are making good investments. For instance, Sycamore supply is expected to be healthy by 2017 or 2018, so designers shouldn’t stop specifying the plant material they want, especially for plans scheduled for completion in 2018 and beyond.

“Don’t give up on these plants yet,” Tolbert said. “They will be available again soon.”

For now, Tolbert recommends that landscape architects manage expectations and prepare clients for plants that might be smaller than designs had anticipated.

“Specs are going to run smaller than you’re used to because when things are selling out this quickly, growers begin to sell plants earlier and earlier. And in the first year, a plant might go into a 5-gallon pot, then get transferred to a 15-gallon pot in year two, then a 30-gallon pot. Traditionally, you might ask for a 30-gallon pot with a 2-2.25-inch caliper tree, but because there are no 30-gallon plants available at that spec, you might have to use a 1.75-inch caliper 30-gallon or resort to a 15-gallon pot. Typically, a 15-gallon pot might contain a 1.5-inch caliper tree, but with how limited this market is, the tree is going to be sold at 1 inch or 1.25-inch caliper. So it’s going to take some time for it to grow into the design,” Tolbert said.

Landscape architects working on designs right now should also work with clients to secure plants as early as possible, he added — even before hiring a general contractor, if necessary.

“Putting in a down payment to secure that material now, even when you’re going to need it a year from now, is the best way to ensure that you will be getting what you want. Get out in front of this as much as possible so that by the time these plants are ready, you’ll have them,” Tolbert said.

The last thing landscape architects can do to help rebalance supply and demand is share their needs with Local Plant Source, Tolbert said. Local Plant Source will then communicate the demand to growers across the country to ensure that growers can feel good about investing in the right plants, especially long lifecycle plants.

“The last recession was a big scare for growers, and there’s always a concern in the back of their mind that it can happen again. Growers might be saying, ‘well, I’m not going to up my production now because in five years, we might have another recession.’ Growers are worried that if they invest in 10,000 liners, there won’t be buyers out there when the plants are ready,” Tolbert said. “And it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen five years from now. They are always worried about the next five years. But they have to invest now to make their money then, and they have to take the time in-between as sunk costs if things don’t go well. It’s tough, so the more landscape architects can communicate their long-term needs with us, and the more we can share with growers, the more that will help the industry rebalance and thrive.”

Landscape architects can contact Local Plant Source by emailing info@localplantsource.com or calling 855-FIND-LPS.