Like Jack’s beanstalk, house gardening pastime grows to new heights throughout Western Pa.

0
136

The coronavirus pandemic suddenly brought a lot of free time home last summer and many people tried their hand at the garden for the first time.

This resulted in a record increase in sales for many local nurseries, especially vegetables – and the trend is expected to continue into 2021.

“Last year was the busiest year we’ve ever had,” said Justin Beall, owner of Bealls Nursery & Landscaping in Plum. “This year is well on the way to being just as busy or busier.”

The family-run kindergarten and landscaping business has been in operation since 1994, and Beall said the recent influx of gardening was due to a void of disinterest in pastime. Baby boomers were the last generation to prioritize gardening and landscaping, but interest has piqued in the younger generation.

“People’s lifestyles have changed as they spend more time at home,” said Beall.

The number of people planting this spring has not slowed since the pandemic started, Beall said. One trend he has seen is more people buying elevated planters for vegetables, herbs, and flowers, especially those who live in urban areas with no garden plots.

“With a lot of people at home, they want to enjoy their outdoor space,” said Beall.

People tend to research what they want before they get to the nursery, said Megan Fialkovich, an assistant greenhouse keeper at Beall. Lately, some even came up with ideas from TikTok and other social media platforms.

“People came with wish lists,” said Fialkovich. “You came ready to go.”

In addition to the raised planters, according to customers, Beall is buying market packs of vegetables like tomatoes, peppers or zucchini instead of seed packs for faster results.

A market parcel consists of four plants that are at least three inches tall, according to Beall.

Jennifer Pribanic, co-manager of Chelses greenhouse in Monroeville, said the greenhouse is full every year but nothing like what she saw during the lockdown last year.

The trend has continued, even at a higher level this year, she said.

“We’ve always had regulars, but now people come in and say, ‘Anyway, I said I should come,” said Pribanic. “We doubled the business last year.”

According to Pribanic, with the increased free time they had last spring and summer, more people have planted their own vegetable and flower gardens.

“They thought if they were going to be home all the time they might as well make their home look beautiful,” she said.

Christy Bradley, a customer at Chelse’s Greenhouse, said she always kept vegetable and flower gardens, but she stepped up her gardening last year when she was on seven and a half months vacation.

“That’s where I spent my mornings – with my flower boxes around my deck,” Bradley said.

Bradley anticipates that she will be doing less gardening this year after she gets back to work, but she still plans to keep what she has.

With so many stuck at home, Jason Wilkinson Nursery in Crossbow has seen a surge in business too.

“We saw a tremendous increase in private customers entering kindergarten,” said Angela Kay, landscape architect at Wilkinson. “(There’s a) much higher volume of home sales than in years (before the pandemic).”

Mary Beth Pcolar, a lifelong gardener, said she hadn’t made any significant changes during the pandemic.

“I’ve always been out there (in the garden) and that didn’t stop me (last year) because I was outside and no one was there but my family and me,” said Pcolar as she was shopping at the Mosside Greenhouse in north Versailles.

One thing she has noticed since the pandemic started is a shortage of certain plants and products in stores. She said she believes more people started gardening in the past year and are now maintaining the hobby that has contributed to persistent shortages.

Mandy Smith, Westmoreland County coordinator for Penn State Extension, said she had “definitely noticed an increase in calls” to her garden hotline at 724-858-4045, a free service where master gardeners answer questions.

In April, the hotline received 88 calls, a significant increase over the previous year.

“The people are out there in the garden,” said Smith. “I know I got all of my seeds in the fall because I expected the seed companies to keep trying to replenish their stocks.”

Smith said gardening “cultivates joy” in people’s lives, and she believes people will get through it after the pandemic.

With vegetable sales up this year compared to last year, Beall said the nursery sellers “sell out quickly” due to high demand.

“We tried to be prepared and we pre-ordered a lot of plants,” said Beall. “(We) need to order early – large quantities – to have enough supply to meet customer demand.”

Fialkovich said certain types of tomatoes like supersonic should be a “no-go” this year.

“Our problem is that a lot of dealers and other nurseries … have pre-sold a lot of items so they don’t have the inventory to send us, or they don’t have the truckers to give it to us.” said Fialkovich.

The Country Farms Garden Center and Landscape Services in Hempfield face a similar dilemma.

“We’re having problems with supplies this year,” said manager Lynda Ridge. “We ship to nursery stocks from all over the US. (And) they’re sold out on many of the items we’re looking for.”

Country Farms has also seen sales growth since the pandemic began – sales that have continued this year.

“We’re having trouble keeping vegetables in stock,” said Ridge. “It was that popular.”

While vendors continue to stop selling products, Country Farms still has a “full inventory” and the Garden Center is “overcrowded” according to Ridge.

“We ordered a lot more plants because we really ran out early last year,” said Ridge. “It’s hard to replenish because people are running out of everything.”

Despite the challenges at Country Farms, Ridge believes the rest of this year will be a “good” one.

At Harrison City Lawn & Garden on Route 130 in Penn Township, longtime associate Kay Hopkinson said she noticed that more young adults are buying vegetables to grow. It was a trend that she saw last year and that has continued this year even as pandemic-related restrictions relax.

It was so busy that your lawn and garden center cannot fulfill your orders on time or only partially. Hopkinson said she believes part of the problem could stem from the greenhouses struggling to find work in this job market.

Shannon Basa-Sabol, a staff member and daughter of the owners of the Mosside Greenhouse in North Versailles, has seen a similar trend.

Basa-Sabol said the store will stay open until the crops run out, which usually happens in mid-June. Last year the greenhouse was sold out until May 23rd.

Basa-Sabol estimates that in its 62nd year the greenhouse will be closed for the season before the end of May.

With business up over the past year, Basa-Sabol said they had increased orders for certain crops, especially vegetables and tomatoes.

The greenhouse welcomed new customers to vegetable gardens last season, and now they’re excited, Basa-Sabol said. Part of the popularity, she said, is because it’s an activity families can do together.

“A lot of people do vegetable gardens because when someone knows what it’s like to buy from a store and pick from your own garden, it’s definitely more rewarding to pick your own fruits and vegetables,” said Basa-Sabol.

Wilkinson’s did not order any more plants in preparation for the 2021 season, despite an increase in sales last year.

“We couldn’t count on (sales volume) to continue this year,” said Kay, noting that the company had ordered more in April and May to keep up with demand.

Chelse’s greenhouse required a higher frequency of deliveries to keep up this year, Pribanic said. Where the company used to have deliveries every few days, it now relies on daily replenishment.

Pribanic said it was exciting to see the new faces from last season return this year and how much enjoyment people have been gardening since the pandemic began.

Fialkovich said the environment has also benefited from increased interest in gardening.

“I have actually seen a lot of people becoming more environmentally conscious and more aware of what is not only good for them and their aesthetics, but also what is good for the environment,” said Fialkovich.

Pribanic hopes the excitement for gardening continues to grow.

“We always try to push (customers) towards perennials … so that they always have that joy,” she said. “They will have something to look back on: ‘This got me through the pandemic – planting these flowers.'”

Megan Swift is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Megan at 724-850-2810, mswift@triblive.com, or on Twitter.