Millions of plants and shrubs could be binned in the coming weeks, with garden centres and nurseries facing financial ruin amid mass closures due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) urged the government to put in place a rescue package to help British horticulture survive the crisis.
It warned a third of UK producers could go bust imminently without such support, leading to a loss of around £250m in direct GDP contribution to the UK economy annually.
In a statement issued on Monday, HTA Chairman James Barnes meanwhile described the timing of the Covid-19 pandemic was “a perfect storm” for the industry due to the outbreak coinciding with peak season.
“The seasonality and perishability that is unique to our industry means that growers are potentially facing stock losses on an ever-rising scale as each day passes,” he said.
“Stock is one of the biggest components of asset value in the sector – stock write offs will destroy the balance sheets of many and make it impossible for them to continue.”
The warning comes after the Government banned all “non-essential” retail in the UK in a bid to curtail the spread of Covid-19.
Some 2,000 garden centres and nurseries have been forced to close amid the nationwide lockdown.
“Since Mother’s Day weekend when demand is typically high but people were beginning to self-isolate, sales dwindled dramatically, while lockdown means that there is unlikely to be any sales through to the May bank holiday, the busiest trading period of the year,” the HTA statement said.
Resorting to making online sales is not a feasible option either for many garden centres or nurseries, industry leaders have said, with limited delivery capacity hampering growers’ ability to get stock to customers.
Commenting on the struggles, TV gardener and noted horticulturist Alan Titchmarsh said the difficulties could “decimate” the sector and leave it “unable to recover for the foreseeable future”.
“This spring could well bring about the end of British horticulture as we know it,” he warned in a statement.
“Our gardens and green spaces – the very things that provide spiritual and physical sustenance at times like this – will no longer be able to call upon the variety of plants that are currently available – a range that has taken decades to develop.”
Mr Titchmarsh also echoed the HTA’s call for a Government rescue package to prevent a scenario where businesses will “disappear overnight”.
“Without it, our gardens and open spaces – a vital source of solace and nutrition to those at home – will suffer irreparable damage,” he said.