The gardening industry has warned of the “catastrophic” impact of the recent cold weather on consumer demand and garden centre sales, with one seller claiming he would have to throw away £100,000 in unsold stock.

Some growers are being forced to cut back on production to prevent wastage while others have been hit by cancelled orders.

“Last year was tough so we were hoping for a good March, but this year is catastrophic,” said Colin Edwards, of Woodlark Nurseries in Surrey. “We’ve got 80% of our spring bedding stock left. I’m expecting to have to throw over £100,000 of unsold stock into the skip.

“Last year was tough so we were hoping for a good March, but this year is catastrophic”

Colin Edwards

“There are knock-on impacts for employing local labour. I’ve got 20 fewer people on site than I would normally employ at this time of year because I’m not selling enough product.”

“Unlike food crops that tend to dominate the headlines, the £1.8bn British ornamentals sector often gets overlooked,” said Ian Riggs, NFU horticulture board member and chairman of the British Protected Ornamentals Association. “2013 is shaping up to be another poor year for plant growers, which after a bleak 2012 season could have catastrophic consequences.”

Derek Smith, a grower of bedding and pot plants, warned of high fuel costs associated with keeping his glasshouse warm. “This should be one of the busiest times of year for us, but it’s absolutely dire. Retailers are looking ahead to summer bedding now, but we’ve got a lot of ivy, pansies and primroses unsold.”

Compost and horticultural products supplier William Sinclair warned yesterday that the cold weather had delayed the start of the spring selling season.

“The board remains confident that the horticulture industry is relatively recession resistant,” it said in a trading update. “Unfortunately, the exact timing of sales over the important spring season does depend on the weather. There is now significant pent-up consumer demand which the company expects to meet as spring finally arrives.”

Changing habits

Homebase told The Grocer it had seen customers change their spending habits because of the unseasonably cold weather. “In March customers continued to buy snow clearing products, garden fleece and paraffin. Homebase also sold three times the amount of wellies that were sold during the same period last year. Customers are also buying hardier plants which are more resilient to frost,” said a spokesman.

“It is anticipated that the pent-up desire for customers to get out in to the garden when the better weather arrives will mean that typical spending behaviour for this time of year will resume.”

A recent survey conducted for Homebase found that British people will invest £20bn in their gardens this year alone, with the average garden containing around £1,790 of investment.