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Published: Tuesday, 2/24/2009

Plants for home gardens increasing

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Mark Hecklinger holds some pepper plants. Mark Hecklinger holds some pepper plants.
JETTA FRASER / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Fed by the slumping economy and other factors, the growing hunger for home-grown vegetables is prompting local greenhouses to start more plants for kitchen gardens this spring.

Hecklinger Greenhouse Inc., a wholesaler that primarily supplies East Coast garden centers, last year ran out of tomato and pepper plants for transplanting into gardens. So the East Toledo greenhouse is increasing tomato and pepper plants by 10 percent and other vegetable plants by at least 5 percent, said Mark Hecklinger, owner.

"I just don't want to go really overboard because I know everyone's going to do the same thing," Mr. Hecklinger said.

Rising food costs, troubled economic times, and food safety concerns are helping persuade more local residents to try vegetable and herb gardening, some local plant growers say. So is more interest in cooking and green living, they add.

Nationwide, 20 million households bought vegetable plants last year, up from 18 million the year before. This year, there could be another jump of 15 to 20 percent, said Bruce Butterfield, research director for the National Gardening Association.

Vegetable plant sales were up 20 percent to 25 percent last year, and the poor economy could spur even more this year, said Mary Ann Bostdorff, an owner of Bostdorff Greenhouse Acres north of Bowling Green.

"Part of it was the economy," she said. "Maybe it got people who wanted to do this but never did a little bit of an impetus."

Vegetable plant sales were up last year at Parran's Greenhouse near Ida, and the business which also has a Monroe store is going to increase transplants by at least 20 percent this year. Among them will be sweet corn and other vegetables experienced gardeners typically grow from seed, said Darlene Parran, owner.

"We had a lot of questions from first-time gardeners," she said. "We do expect to see more of an increase this year even."

Bob Schmidt, one of the owners of Schmidt Bros. Inc., said the Swanton area wholesaler plans to grow about 10 percent more vegetable plants this year than last. Schmidt Bros. supplied 43,000 flats of vegetable plants to The Andersons, Lowe's, and other retailers as far away as the East Coast and the South last year, he said.

Tomatoes and peppers remain the most popular vegetable plants by far, but Schmidt Bros. grows cabbage, broccoli, and other plants as well, Mr. Schmidt said. Schmidt Bros. didn't anticipate such a surge in vegetable gardening interest last year, he said.

"I think it's going to continue this year," Mr. Schmidt said.

Last spring, sales of vegetable plants at Bench's Greenhouse & Nursery near Elmore were up 22 percent to 25 percent because of the economy and an interest in living green. Bench's plans to start more vegetable plants this year, beginning this week with tomatoes that will be big enough by Mother's Day to be sold in 12-inch pots, said Jill Bench of the greenhouse.

Many customers last year wanted to start raised "square-foot gardens" that use less space than conventional single-row gardens, Ms. Bench said.

"There was a huge increase in vegetable gardening," she said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.


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