The Challenges Faced By Plant Nurseries in South Africa

Plant nurseries, whether wholesale, retail or, like Windy Willows, serving both of these sectors, are faced with numerous challenges that must be overcome in order to satisfy the needs of their clients, whilst also remaining profitable. The most important requirement of the consumer is quality. Customers want the reassurance of knowing that the shrubs, trees or ground covers they may have purchased will survive long enough to provide them with the display that they are hoping for.

This means that growers must exercise a strict policy of purchasing seed only from the most trusted sources and, subsequently, maintaining the resulting seedlings under the conditions that are optimal for healthy, disease-free growth. To do so, calls for sound botanical knowledge on the part of those who operate the nation’s commercial plant nurseries.

The South African climate poses a few challenges of its own, in both Johannesburg and in the in the more arid areas of the country. The Johannesburg climate is moderate for 9 months of the year and can be extreme for the other three months. Temperatures of below zero during the winter months can destroy the sub-tropical plants that flourish in the other nine months. The need to maintain a diversity of stock that is sufficient to satisfy the equally diverse needs of the consumer, can serve to further complicate the climate-related demands faced by growers.

While the safe route would be to focus solely on cultivating the numerous indigenous species that are already well-adapted to local conditions, the public demand for exotic imports is considerable and therefore cannot be overlooked. After all, what would a garden devoid of roses, lilies, fuchsias and petunia’s look like? Species grown in milder or tropical climates must be introduced gradually to the local conditions, as they must become adapted in order to thrive. The process is time-consuming and requires careful handling by the staff of plant nurseries.

The temperature, moisture, sunlight and nutritional requirements may vary quite markedly between species. Growers must be in a position to provide conditions suitable for cacti and succulents, as well as for the more hydrophilic species. This diversity means that it is necessary for them to establish a series of individual growing areas, each of which is designed to provide a combination of these criteria that is appropriate to a particular set of needs.

For wholesalers, there may be additional challenges. While dedicated seed companies are able to deliver their merchandise by the ton, many commercial growers prefer to harvest their own. For a variety of reasons, some choose to grow new stock from cuttings and even to undertake cross-pollination attempts with a view to developing new hybrids. For plant nurseries to become involved with these exacting, additional tasks, requires both sound knowledge of the principles of horticulture and considerable experience in its application, if they are to ensure success on a commercial scale.

Even when all of the growing conditions are both optimal and appropriate for a given species, there remains the risk of disease. Fungal, viral or bacterial infections, as well as predation by insects, could spell disaster for growers, if their signs are not identified early and dealt with quickly and effectively. This again calls for specialist knowledge and vigilance on the part of plant nursery staff.

In order to maintain the physical conditions needed to maintain healthy, disease-free stock that is adapted to local conditions, the associated costs are high. Only through our skilled care is it possible for Windy Willows to supply our wide range of indigenous and exotic species, at prices significantly lower than those of competing plant nurseries.


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