?Matthew Appleby, deputy editor of Horticulture Week, investigates why supermarkets have reined in their ambitious plans to develop plant sales Supermarkets have backed off from selling plants this season, having experienced two difficult years. The major chains used to think that selling plants equalled easy profits, but poor spring weather followed by drought and hose pipe bans has forced them to rethink. From grandiose plans for 70 marquees in some chains' car parks, supermarkets now seem to have pulled the plug on further investment into this area. Putting tents on valuable car parking spaces - plus the manpower costs of looking after plants - clearly does not stack up against the amount of footfall the marquees attracted. The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) has only spotted one marquee this year, at Tesco in Great Yarmouth. Sainsbury's has confirmed it has pulled out of plant marquees completely after erecting more than 40 in 2006. But its plants, seeds and horticulture sales are still up 3% this financial year to 1 June thanks to double-digit growth in sales of seeds, driven by vegetable and organic seeds, and sales increases of more than 10% in shrubs and perennials. Recent results from the HTA's Garden Industry Monitor show March horticultural stock sales up 18% in garden centres, 86% up in DIY stores but only 14% up in all other outlets, which include supermarkets. Sales through this 'other' category were £78m, only £2m more than through garden centres, originally seen as an easy target by the major chains. The overall upturn in sales shows that, with a bit of clement weather, consumers have not forgotten they enjoy gardening. But growers are still complaining about "tight-fisted" supermarkets driving down prices. Hampshire fruit tree grower AE Roberts' managing director John Gwynn has enjoyed strong sales as healthy eating and grow-your-own reaches news agendas. It sells 600,000 fruit trees and bushes annually. But he still moans that the focus of customers such as Morrisons is "all on cost reduction". Prices are the same as a decade ago despite labour, distribution and packaging costs rising, he adds. Consequently, some large growers are using this booming selling season to decrease reliance on big supermarkets. Supermarkets are choosing to own-brand many plants, including Gwynn's, and generally stock only the best known varieties.