Plant nurseries wither in recession

The trend is striking independent plant nurseries like caterpillars on cabbage: A combination of lingering recession, pressure from big box stores and back-to-back wet springs has swept countless small nurseries into a sea of debt the last four years.

Late last week, news of another victim circulated in Sacramento's tightly knit gardening circles: Carmichael's Windmill Nursery is closing.

"The economy is killing everybody," Windmill owner Paul Niemann said. "We tried to fight it as long as we could. We had to eliminate some (product) lines (primarily in the gift shop) so we could keep plants in stock."

Nursery industry officials blame the poor economy and bad weather.

As home construction came to a standstill, so did creation of new landscapes, the backbone of the nursery business.

"In our area, I personally believe the real estate market and the plight of the state workers have conspired against garden centers, just like they have for other retail segments," said John Adams, owner of Roseville's Sierra Nursery.

"I believe the same number of customers still came through the doors, but I saw a shift in projects from large trees and shrubs to more color (annuals and perennials) as part of the pattern. Smaller projects equals smaller purchases."

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