Cold spring puts chill on Chilliwack nursery operations

The on-again, off-again spring, punctuated by days of cold, winter-like weather, has “brutalized” the multi-million dollar greenhouse industry in Chilliwack.

The on-again, off-again spring, punctuated by days of cold, winter-like weather, has “brutalized” the multi-million dollar greenhouse industry in Chilliwack.

Last month was the most dismal April since 1993 with only four sunny days and a mean temperature of 7.6 degrees C, but dropping as low as half a degree above zero, making it the fifth-coldest on record.

The cause is an unusually cool, unstable air mass from the Gulf of Alaska that has become “entrenched” over B.C. as the jet stream stubbornly refuses to move north from a position south of the province.

“Essentially, there’s virtually no place in North America, except north Texas and a few Southern states where things are normal,” said Brian Minter, an international speaker, author and broadcaster on gardening.

“The industry in the first quarter has been brutalized,” he said, with greenhouse gardening sales down by 35-50 per cent.

But April is just the first month of the three he said are “key for survival” of greenhouse operators.

Recovery is still quite possible, Minter said, if normal temperatures return.

“I’m always an optimist,” he said, “but we need to get a break fairly soon.”

Stan Vander Waal, president of Rainbow Greenhouses in Sardis, said he’d like to see that turn-around in temperature come before the May 24 long weekend.

He said sales at Rainbow are currently 30 per cent below “where we want to be.”

“It’s not great gardening weather, so nobody is too pumped up to get out and buy,” he said.

The company can get by “holding back” plants in the greenhouse until good gardening weather returns and buyers are tempted outside, but at a certain point plants are “geared” to be in the ground and growing, he said.

The unseasonal weather has mostly affected greenhouses in the Lower Mainland, and sales are “pretty good” elsewhere in B.C., Vander Waal said.

But they’re not the only industry feeling the chill. Local house sales are also off – only 187 homes were sold last month compared to 233 in the same month last year, the Chilliwack and District Real Estate Board reported, and it’s blaming the cold weather and the federal election.

Minter said weather conditions last year were also pretty bad for greenhouses, but admitted this is the worst he’s seen it in his lifetime.

However, it’s the plants, not the gardeners, that are sensitive to low temperatures, he said.

He described B.C. gardeners as a hardy bunch who will tend their plants in rain or shine.

But the plants themselves must have warmer temperatures to germinate, he said.

Minter also reminded gardeners about the adage that planting late resulted in faster-growing plants.

“There’s nothing we can do about (the weather),” he said. “We just have to be patient.”

rfreeman@theprogress.com