WHAT ARE NURSERY CROPS?
Nursery crops include all cultivated plants that are used to
enhance the outdoor landscape. This includes trees, shrubs,
herbaceous perennials, and annuals. They are used to beautify public
and private landscapes, to provide privacy and protection from wind
and sun, to produce nutritious berries and tree fruits, to
re-vegetate disturbed sites with native plants, and to provide
habitat for wildlife.
Nurseries are responsible for propagating these plants and
growing them to a size that is suitable for post-sale planting.
WHERE ARE NURSERY CROPS PRODUCED IN BC?
The first nursery farms were established on Vancouver Island and
Salt Spring Islands in the mid-1880's. Now most nurseries are
located in the Lower Mainland, on Vancouver Island, and in the
Okanagan. However, most communities have some type of nursery or
landscape business nearby.
HOW MANY NURSERY CROPS DO WE PRODUCE?
The industry consists of a few large producers that grow a
diverse range of plants as well as small and medium sized
operations, some of which are very specialized. The total number and
range of crops grown by nurseries is staggering. For example, there
are specialty nurseries that produce 500 or more different varieties
of a single crop, such as rhododendrons and daylilies!
The nursery industry is an important component of the agriculture
industry in BC, accounting for almost 5% of provincial farm
receipts. Their annual gross revenue is approximately $90 million.
BC is the second largest producer of nursery stock in Canada and
accounts for approximately 25% of the national sales. The majority
of plants produced, about 60%, are sold to the many retail garden
centres and landscapers in the province. However, products are sold
right across North America. Growth in the industry has resulted in a
400% increase in exports between 1991 and 1997.
HOW ARE NURSERY CROPS PRODUCED?
Young plants are started in a greenhouse as cuttings or
seedlings. After an appropriate time in controlled conditions, the
plants are transplanted into the field or into containers. As the
stock increases in size, it is either shifted into a larger
container or dug and planted at a wider spacing. This ensures the
plant has a strong root system and is well-shaped. Depending on the
crop, it can take anywhere from a few months to 5 years before a
crop reaches a marketable size.
Some nurseries use very sophisticated technology whereby plants
are multiplied on an artificial nutrient medium in a sterile
laboratory. This procedure is referred to as tissue culture. The
advantages of the procedure are that it is an effective propagation
method for some difficult-to-propagate plants, it is a quick method
of multiplying new plants recently released from a breeding program,
and it can be used to eliminate virus diseases in nursery stock.
Once the plants are multiplied in the laboratory, they are moved to
the greenhouse for rooting and growing-on.
In recent years there has been a shift towards greater container
production, which generates more revenue per acre than field
production. This is very significant in regions of the province
where property values are very high. This trend is also a response
to changing consumer demand. Consumers prefer container-grown
plants; they are easier to transplant and generally have higher
Another important segment of the production cycle is the breeding
and selection of improved plants. A world-renown breeding program,
the Plant Introduction Scheme of the Botanical Garden (PISBG), is
operated by the Botanical Garden at the University of BC. The
program operates in conjunction with the BC nursery industry.
Through this scheme new and very special plants are released to the
nursery industry for propagation and distribution to the general
public. As a result garden enthusiasts and casual gardeners alike
have access to some beautiful plants that have demonstrated their
superiority in carefully managed trials. These are the plants
everyone "Just has to have". Estimated worldwide sales of
PISBG plants exceed $12 million.
WHAT DOES A NURSERY CROP LOOK LIKE WHEN I USE IT?
Nursery stock is used by landscapers and homeowners to design
green spaces in private and public areas. From a nursery you can buy
evergreen or deciduous trees and shrubs, roses, any one of hundreds
of perennials and annuals, fruit trees, berry bushes, vines, ground
covers or broadleaf evergreens. The nursery industry constantly
introduces new and better varieties of plants in response to
consumer demand. The recent expansion of multi-family residences has
resulted in plants selected that grow well in planters or in smaller
yards. Nursery plants provide a great deal of benefit in terms of
beautification of the urban environment.
Some nurseries grow forest seedlings that are replanted into
logged areas. Nurseries also grow fruit trees which are used to
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE NURSERY CROP LEAVES THE FARM?
Some nurseries sell directly from the farm; others sell to
wholesale producers, landscapers, retail garden centres or directly
to the public. Over half the sales are to landscape contractors and
retail garden centres. Nursery stock is transported almost
exclusively by transport truck.
WHAT CHALLENGES DOES THE NURSERY CROP PRODUCER FACE?
Nurseries grow a wide variety of plants and each one is
susceptible to a different array of diseases and harmful insects
that, if not controlled, could make the plants unmarketable. In an
effort to control these problems, and to minimize the use of
chemical controls, many nursery operators use integrated pest
management (IPM). IPM uses a combination of good growing practices,
wise selection of stock that is resistant to most pests, and the use
of predatory insects/mites and chemicals to control pests. Since few
building developers fully understand plants and what they need to
flourish, the nursery industry has established formal standards for
the plants and the landscapers that install them. Using a
"certified" landscaper is your assurance of a quality job.
The industry is vulnerable to annual cycles in crop demand. This
occurs because demand for nursery plants is directly related to the
health of the economy and the weather, both of which are cyclical.
When the economy is strong, and there is lots of residential and
commercial construction, the demand for nursery stock increases.
WHO'S INVOLVED IN PRODUCING NURSERY CROPS?
- Nursery owners and managers
- Nursery employees
- Garden centre owners and employees
- Landscape designers
- Horticultural supply companies and consultants
- Government researchers and extension personnel
Interesting Fact About Nursery Crops:
New improved plant varieties are constantly introduced to keep
pace with changing consumer demand. Watch for the latest "new
plant introductions" at your garden centre to add to your
- For further information:
BC Landscape and
BCMAFF - Ornamental Information
Canadian Nursery Landscape Association
- InfoBasket: Your Portal to Agri-Food Information on the Internet