A nursery is a place where plants are propagated and grown to a usable size. In Louisiana, the nursery crop industry is diverse and includes cool and warm season annual flowers (bedding plants), herbaceous perennials, roses, ornamental grasses, trees, shrubs and ground covers. The industry is heavily concentrated in the Forest Hill area of Rapides Parish and in the Florida parishes. In the 2010s, many citrus growers in Plaquemines Parish constructed greenhouses to grow fruit trees in containers. The nursery and greenhouse industry is made up of hundreds of small family businesses that grow plants for wholesale and retail sale.
There are various ways that nurseries grow plants. Some of them include open fields, container fields and in greenhouses. Many nursery operations are highly specialized. Some only produce bulk seedlings to sell to other nurseries, others may grow out seedlings to sell to retail outlets. Others specialize in one type of plant. Just as the types of nurseries are diverse, the production methods are also diverse. There are several aspects constant throughout the industry. The producer must use best management practices to oversee soil health and fertility, pest management, water resources and plant health. This seasonal industry is also very labor intensive, as many tasks must be done by hand.
The kind of plant and growing conditions determine how long the plant takes to grow and mature. Open field operations mostly grow trees, while container field operations grow shrubs, small trees and herbaceous plants. Greenhouse operations grow seedlings for sale to other nurseries, annual bedding plants and plants susceptible to harsh temperature changes.
Nursery crops grown in containers can be harvested any time of the year. Container-grown plants can be in propagation for 6-12 months. When plants become too large for the pot they are in, they must be relocated to a larger pot to thrive and to grow to their full potential. Annuals are sold in trays or flats, while perennials and shrubs are usually sold in plastic pots.
The Louisiana Super Plants program has been a success story for the industry. The program features 35 Louisiana plants selected by horticulturists as the LSU AgCenter because they grow well in our state’s climate.