The spring of 2020 is expected to stand as a high point for businesses that are able to meet the rising interest in at-home gardening. The timing of the country shutting down was fortuitous, coming as the days were getting longer, and the weather was signaling it was time to do some planting.
Add to that the people nationwide who are creating the pandemic versions of victory gardens, whether to avoid going grocery shopping, because they care more about where their food is coming from, or just because they have more time at home.
Seeds, in fact, were already a growing business before the pandemic, with U.S. sales reaching $276.7 million in 2019, up nearly 24 percent from 2014, according to Euromonitor International. AmericanHort, a trade association for the horticulture industry, pegs the overall gardening industry’s annual sales at $346 billion, a figure that includes production, wholesale, retail and landscaping.
The pandemic also helped to create pent-up demand because in some parts of the country, garden centers weren’t able to be open for some time because they weren’t considered essential businesses. Elsewhere, options such as curbside pickup and delivery were put into more frequent use.
And the garden centers that have been open have been seeing strong sales, particularly of vegetables, according to AmericanHort, which has also noticed increases in sales of plants and shrubs.
W. Atlee Burpee Co., known for its seed catalogs, saw people embracing gardening during the Great Recession in the late 2000s and also after the 1987 stock market crash. “When economic distress hits, gardening really takes off,” says President and CEO Jamie Mattikow. Those that began gardening in the late 2000s were largely interested in growing vegetables, and many that stayed interested in the practice moved on to flowers. Until recently, Burpee had seen flower seed sales growing faster than vegetable seed sales. Now, vegetables are the driving force. “This is all about food right now,” says Mattikow.
While the buzz around gardening began growing when stay-at-home orders took hold, Burpee was seeing major increases in the number of gardeners even back in December and January, says Mattikow. Then there was a “tremendous spike” in interest this spring. People are buying roughly the same amount of seeds, there are just a lot more of them placing orders.
The number of people heading to Burpee’s site for information and guidance, including tips for new gardeners or how to set up a raised bed, is up 75 percent, says Mattikow.