|‘Fall decorating is serious business’PINEY RIVER—When temperatures start to cool, home décor heats up—often using Virginia-grown products like chrysanthemums, cornstalks, pumpkins and gourds.
“Fall decorating is serious business, second only to the Christmas season,” said Sonya Westervelt, sales manager for Saunders Brothers Nursery in Nelson County. “For us, mums are kind of what get the season started, but we’re growing cabbage and kale, and we do a tremendous pansy and viola business.”
Decorative plants are part of the state’s green industry, a major sector in Virginia’s $70 billion farm economy. The 2017 Census of Agriculture collectively ranked nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod businesses as the state’s fifth-largest agricultural sector, generating a total of $328 million.
Last year 2.8 million hardy garden chrysanthemums were raised in Virginia, with a wholesale value of $6.4 million. Another $9 million worth of pansies and violas were sold by producers to retail outlets like garden centers, according to the 2018 floriculture report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
“So far, this mum season is pretty straightforward,” Westervelt said. “Weather can affect their blooming time, and we have no early blooming or late-blooming plants, so everything is on schedule. “There are operations that finish their mums in the greenhouse, but we start them outside and finish them outside, so good weather is a bonus.”
Growers are always trying to attract more buyers, so mums are being bred for different flower shapes, colors and even blooming times. “You can find a mum variety in bloom from August through November if you hunt for them,” Westervelt said. The goal is to keep the plants in bloom and offer continual color at retail stores and in home landscapes.
“The best way to ensure you’re getting a good plant is to buy local and buy from a trusted store,” she added. “You can tell a lot about the health of a plant by the leaves. The flower is the show-stopper, but if the leaves don’t look good, it may not be healthy.”
Other fall decoration products raised by Virginia farmers include pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn, dried cornstalks and straw bales.