When freezing rain started beating down on the Young Bend Nursery on Dec. 5, a half-inch of slush quickly formed on top of the nursery’s 20 greenhouses.
Nearly 2 inches of sleet followed, causing the ceilings to sag and the walls to bow outward on six of the nursery’s greenhouses in the Parker County community of Brock.
The owner, Doug Robison, would spend several sleepless nights trying to save his greenhouses by using a 15-foot piece of PVC pipe to whack and remove ice.
“I was afraid I was going to lose those houses, that it was going to go bam, bam, bam in the middle of the night,” Robison said. “I kept doing whatever I could to alleviate the ice.”
Robison eventually lost two greenhouses to the storm, which left North Texas under a thick sheet of ice and brought the region to a standstill. Other commercial growers and retailers shared similar stories, with their greenhouses also crumpling under the weight of the ice.
“We only have anecdotal evidence, but it seems pretty significant,” said Anna McGarity, a spokeswoman for the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association.
Green Creek Nursery in Stephenville lost 26 greenhouses, and another nursery in Granbury lost nine, McGarity said.
‘Never seen it like this’
Among retailers, the Plant Shed lost four greenhouses at its Benbrook store and three in Keller. The Plantus nursery in west Fort Worth lost seven, and another west-side nursery, Archie’s Gardenland, lost one.
At the Plant Shed in Benbrook, flocked Christmas trees were still standing this week in one of the collapsed greenhouses.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I’ve never seen it like this,” said Jim Lawson, the Plant Shed’s general manager. “Had it happened during springtime, it would have devastated us.”
Marshall Grain Co.’s Grapevine store didn’t lose any greenhouses but had damage to fountains, furniture and shrubs when the cloth coverings over its 12,000-square-foot shade structure collapsed.
“In some cases, it just bent the metal poles and uprooted them from the concrete,” said Jim Connelley, owner and president of Marshall Grain Co.
Marshall Grain and many other retail nurseries lost out on what is traditionally the busiest weekend of the year for Christmas tree sales, affecting their bottom lines.
“I think most retailers will tell you it really put a halt to business on a very critical weekend,” said Sam Weger of Calloway’s Nursery, past chairman of the Texas Landscape and Nursery Association board.
“There was just no business that weekend,” Weger said. “The Christmas business is relatively small when you put it up against spring business, but it’s critical to many in terms of providing some cash flow this time of year.”
Helping out the needy
The so-called green industry — nurseries, greenhouses, landscapers, and lawn and garden equipment makers and retailers — totaled $15.6 billion in gross sales in 2011, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife study for the landscape and nursery association. Dallas-Fort Worth represented 24 percent of sales statewide.
At least one local retailer not only lost out on sales because of the ice but also saw a large shipment of Christmas trees arrive about a week late. He plans to give some of those away to needy families.
Jimmy Hutton, owner of Ridgmar Farmers Market in west Fort Worth, said he will give away about 50 trees. The store manager will determine who gets trees, and Hutton hopes that church groups will help identify families in need.
“It just makes sense to give some of them away,” Hutton said. “That would have been the busiest weekend of the year for Christmas tree sales, and you’re not going to get that weekend back.”