A look at some of the demonstration gardens at Moana Nursery’s garden center on South Virginia Street in Reno. The company saw a 30% increase in business in 2020 as more homebound customers have turned to gardening during the pandemic.
Traditionally, when a customer walked into Greenhouse Garden Center to buy seeds, they would pluck a few packets from the rack and move along.
Since the pandemic took root last spring, however, customers are grabbing seed packets by the handful and then some.
“A lot of times last year, and even this year, we’re finding people coming in buying 20 to 40 packs of seeds,” David Ruf, owner of Greenhouse Garden Center in Carson City, said in a phone interview with the NNBW. “They’re buying for family or somebody else in the neighborhood, or they’re trying to grow even more vegetables than usual.
“We’re seeing a definite spike in seeds that’s continuing to rise this year.”
Ruf said vegetable seeds with a 90-day turnaround from planting to harvest — such as squash, lettuce, carrots, peas and beans — have been especially popular, selling out quickly when they hit the rack.
“A lot of people got into the ‘victory garden’ — growing your own produce and containerized gardening,” Ruf said. “Everybody wants to garden, so seeds were easy and they’re cheap. Even if you were limited on funds, you could come in and buy some seeds and be able to get something in return.”
It’s a microcosm of why garden centers and nurseries are high on the list among businesses in Northern Nevada that have seen demand increase during the pandemic.
More people are working from home and wanting to grow their own food. Some are planting flowers to spruce up their backyards. Others have turned to gardening for solace outside of the house. As a result, COVID-19 gardens have exploded in popularity over the past year.
This led to Greenhouse Garden Center’s overall sales being up about 15% in 2020 compared to 2019, said Ruf before adding: “We had no idea it would turn out like this when we were told to stay home.”
The Carson City-based garden center is not alone in that sentiment.
Moana Nursery, which has three garden centers in Reno-Sparks and offers landscaping services, was bracing for “the Great Recession all over again” when its seasonal business dropped off sharply early in March 2020, said owner Bruce Gescheider.
That feeling didn’t last long, though.
“Later in the month, parts of our business roared back as we were deemed an essential home improvement business and our community realized that they had to be homebound,” Gescheider noted.
In response, Moana Nursery launched an online store and added curbside pick-up and delivery services, Gescheider said.
By year’s end, the company’s retail sales were up more than 43% in 2020 compared to 2019. In all, with Moana Nursery’s landscape services down last year, it saw a 30% boost in business in 2020, Gescheider said.
“This unexpectedly large increase in business was almost totally driven by homeowners and families, as the business and commercial community mainly hunkered down for the unknown duration of the pandemic,” he said.
To keep up with the demand, Moana Nursery hired more employees last spring and summer, swelling its staff size to 222 in June, according to Gescheider.
Ruf said Greenhouse Garden Center attempted to add employees, but had trouble hiring due to people concerned about being exposed to COVID or choosing to collect unemployment stipends instead.
“That made it very difficult to find labor,” said Ruf, noting the garden center still managed to meet the demand.
Michael Roth, an arborist and plant doctor at Moana Nursery, said the company is not only seeing a lot of return customers, but also a surge in first-time gardeners.
“It doesn’t matter if you have 10 acres or you live in an apartment, you can still grow patio plants or a patio tomato,” Roth said. “Anyone with enough sunlight can grow vegetables outside.”
Roth said some customers have been compelled to grow their own fruits and vegetables over concerns about the food supply chain.
“People want to be able to grow their own food and be able to sustain themselves on their own,” he said. “This is an opportunity for people to turn a problem around into an opportunity.”
To that end, Gescheider said Moana Nursery will benefit this year from “a lot of new edible landscape gardeners” as well as “the increased new housing starts on the books.”
Still, Gescheider is planning for only a small increase in 2021 after the company’s huge gains in 2020.
“We believe the reopening of our economy and the overwhelming isolation of home confinement with few alternatives will start to abate, creating less free time for home improvement,” he said.
Ruf, meanwhile, said customers need to realize there is going to be shortages in the nursery industry this year, especially when it comes to vegetable seeds.
“Only so many people are growing vegetable seeds,” Ruf explained. “A lot of times people don’t realize that there’s a need to grow those and there are farms set aside that do nothing but grow for seed crop. So, they have to be relied on heavily and they have to look a year in advance.
“This caught everybody in the industry off guard.”