The autumn seasons gets under way ‒ but conditions are problematic


In public parks, in the wild and in private gardens, we are now seeing plants that have withered or been damaged by the recent prolonged drought. Gabriele Friedrich of our editorial staff talked about the import of this for tree nurseries, their range and prices with the Chairman of the Association of German Mid-sized Tree Nursery Businesses (AmB), Frans van Dijk-Steffen.

Additional watering means more work and higher costs for tree nurseries. Image: Gabriele Friedrich

Tree nurseries: lack of natural rainfall means more work and higher costs

In the case of tree nurseries, most of which have irrigation systems, the drought will at the least mean more work and higher costs. Frans van Dijk-Steffen (Rellingen) comments:

“The sensitivity of trees to the lack of water differs according to their nature. Those being grown in containers that are usually watered during the night during a normal summer have needed to be additionally watered several times daily to help them cope with the extreme heat and dryness. So schools are having to water their trees at least two to three times more frequently.”

Additional watering means sky-rocketing costs

“Young trees being cultivated on open ground have needed to be regularly watered from early May as here in northern Germany ‒ and indeed across the whole of Europe ‒ we experienced no significant rainfall since that date. From July, it even became necessary to provide regular watering of older stocks. Because of the associated consumption of diesel and electricity, costs shot up both for the tending of plants in containers and on open ground. It became necessary to repair pumps or acquire new ones and in some cases, the situation was such that new wells needed to be sunk.

In this dry summer, the additional effort required for watering has been extreme. The expense of using the municipal water supply is not commensurate with the return generated. It is true that most plant nurseries have their own water supply but a summer like this in which it has been necessary to water continuously has never occurred before in my experience.”

Stocks on open ground still insufficiently mature despite watering

Plants being raised on open ground have not achieved their normal growth rates in this year despite all the additional watering. As a result, although tree nurseries have greater outgoings in terms of production, they will see a reduced yield.

For example, the heat has caused the complete loss of some young plant stocks on open ground. Supplementary watering is not always enough and it is not possible to protect larger areas against the effects of the sun. Many types of plants being grown from cuttings have suffered as a result as is also the case with those being grown from grafts. The root stocks are no longer vigorous enough and in many instances the grafts have not taken. Fewer roses and fruit trees have been successfully reared because of the drought.”

2018 summer turnover: next to nothing in individual cases

“It is unlikely we will see much in terms of healthy sized 100/150 planted shrubs this year, and the lighter shrubs and hedging plants will similarly not be of the usual quality. There has not been much growth in the case of standalones while the increase in the diameter of trees will also be less.

Sales in summer were slow because of the drought and some businesses reported a turnover close to nil. Although drought-related damage is already apparent in public parks and in the wild, we will have to see what the next few months bring. It will undoubtedly be necessary to replace plants and also many of the trees. But there are certain situations in which we can hope that, despite all this, certain trees and shrubs will be exhibiting new growth.”

Heat-resistant species: the advantages of climate-resistant trees and shrubs

“There is no doubt that the sector will be continuing to focus on climate change and the availability of more climate-resistant plants, and these will be coming to the fore in the future. In our business, we have been increasingly interested in trees that can cope with climate change and this hot summer will only accelerate this process.

And it is quite possible that we have again reached a point where demand and supply will determine prices. The extreme drought and the resultant higher costs of production have made a rise in the retail prices of plants inevitable. We are seeing the changes in pricing set out in the price calculation aid list issued by the AmB for summer 2018 happening and the corresponding increases are becoming reality.

Lower output and losses attributable to the drought are already resulting in bottlenecks in the supply of many woody and shrub species in this autumn season. By spring, many products will not be available in the demanded sizes and qualities,” expects van Dijk-Steffen.