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Things are always busy at Historyland Nursery, which supplies trees and shrubs to Costco outlets up and down the East Coast.
Growing trees and shrubs for Costco outlets on the East Coast is big business at Historyland Nurseries.
PETER CIHELKA/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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BY LINDLEY ESTES
The Leyland cypresses that will be at the garden section of the Fredericksburg Costco this fall didn't travel far to the shelf.
Tom Huggins, a local farmer who operates Historyland Nursery at two locations in Essex and Westmoreland counties, has provided local plants to Costco stores along the East Coast for the past 15 years.
He also provides plants to local building and landscaping contractors.
Huggins grows a wide range of woody ornamentals such as azaleas, rhododendrons, fruit trees, Japanese hollies ("sky pencils"), knockout roses and Leyland cypresses, all in containers.
"It's an extra effort with the Leyland," he said.
Some are grown for up to four years on the farm in 15-gallon containers.
The plants come to Huggins from farther south, primarily Alabama, where there is a longer growing season. He then transplants them into larger pots, where they grow for the next few years before being shipped out.
In the winter they work on potting the plants, then bring them outside during the spring and summer for trimming and fertilizing. By September, plants ready for the fall planting season are shipped. In November, Huggins and his team move the other plants back into greenhouses to protect them from the cold.
Huggins said no season is busy season--it's busy all year. But that's the way he likes it.
He and his father got involved in growing woody ornamentals because it had more opportunity than other, more traditional, areas of agriculture, Huggins said.
"I'm just a wannabe farmer," he joked.
Currently, he sells up to 400,000 plants to Costco per year.
He said that local plants are an asset to companies because the bloom time matches the area.
Costco has been a steady customer for Huggins.
"I have not had much experience with other big stores," he said. "But for Costco, it's not the price that's most important. The quality is."
He said that Costco provides stability in an unpredictable industry.
Huggins said that with the economic crunch, there has been less residential construction and landscaping. But as sales have fallen, "Costco kept us running," he said.
This sense of stability is also important, he said, in an industry in which plants must be grown on the farm for up to four years before they reach stores.