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Gardening: Where our plants come from

By Katie Jackson

If your 2014 gardening plans include buying plants for your vegetable plot, flower beds or landscape, you’re likely to be purchasing plants grown right here in Alabama, which is home to a large number of nursery and greenhouse producers who provide not just plants for us, but are also a boost for the state’s economy.

“A multitude of landscape plants are produced right here in Alabama including annuals, perennials, cut flowers, ground covers, shrubs and trees,” says Adam Newby, an associate professor of horticulture at Auburn University.

Newby and his colleague Glenn Fain, associate professor of horticulture at Auburn, both specialize in nursery and greenhouse production issues and noted that the state’s nursery and greenhouse industry is not only very high-tech, it is remarkably diverse.

Among our Alabama plant producers are several large and nationally known growers, but there are also many smaller family-owned operations that, like their larger counterparts, are “all working to bring high quality landscape plants to the market,” says Newby.

Alabama’s Gulf Coast region, which offers ideal growing conditions as well as easy access to interstate transportation and close proximity to many major markets, is considered the “Nursery Center of the South,” according to the South Alabama Nursery Association.

That region is also known as “The Azalea Capital of the United States.” “There’s a good chance that the azaleas in your landscape were produced by a nursery in the Mobile/Baldwin County area,” says Newby. But they and the many other growers across the state produce a wide range of plants, from vegetables and herbs to bedding and houseplants to shrubs and trees, that end up in everything from large retail stores to independent garden centers located across Alabama, the Southeast and the United States.

Not only do these greenhouses and nurseries supply us with high-quality plants, they have a huge impact on the state’s economy, says James Harwell, executive director of the Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association.

According to Harwell, a 2013 economic impact study of Alabama’s agricultural sector estimated that the state’s greenhouse, nursery and floriculture industry supports nearly 7,000 jobs in the state and directly contributes more than $561 million to the state’s economy. (See the full report on the economic impact study of Alabama’s agricultural, forestry and related industries at www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1456/ANR-1456-low.pdf.)

A previous 2007 economic analysis report (www.aaes.auburn.edu/comm/pubs/specialreports/sr-7-green-industry.pdf) showed that the state’s “green” industry (which includes nursery, greenhouse, turfgrass and sod producers as well as lawn and landscaping services and garden product retailers) is Alabama’s number one “cash crop,” providing $2.9 billion annually to the state’s economy.

So as you buy plants for this year’s garden, you are also likely helping support an important economic sector in our state and getting high-quality plants in the process.

As you shop, make sure to not only look for ones grown in Alabama, but also select the handsomest and healthiest of plants from any supplier. Pick plants that are bushy and have a well-branched shape and sturdy stems—avoid ones that look leggy and spindly. And if you’re buying flowering plants, purchase ones with lots of unopened buds so they will continue blooming long after you get them home.

Take time as you shop to inspect plants for signs of any problems, such as yellowing or wilted leaves, evidence of insect or disease issues, damage to stems or to the bark on woody plants, poor root development or overgrowth of roots from the bottom of the pot, weeds in the pot or an overly dry or wet dry potting mixture or root ball.

Once you’ve bought them, ensure your new plants feel at home in your garden by transplanting them into the garden, landscape or pots as soon as possible and providing them plenty of water so they can put down roots in your garden.

 

Then sit back and watch them grow, all the while knowing you are supporting a major sector of Alabama’s economy.

 

May Tips:

Plant eggplant, pepper and tomato transplants.

Sow seed for sweet corn, squash, okra and lima and snap beans.

Plant summer annuals and perennials.

Plant ornamental grasses and fall-blooming perennials.

Seed new lawns.

Keep newly planted shrubs and trees and newly seeded lawns well watered.

Fertilize houseplants that are growing or blooming.

Prune tender deciduous shrubs and vines.

Keep bird feeders and baths full and clean.