Production nurseries raise indoor plants, bedding plants, ornamental trees and shrubs, roses, fruit trees and young vegetables for sale to retail outlets. Some also sell fruit trees and vegetables to commercial growers. Nursery plants are raised in various conditions – open fields, under simple cover or in high-tech greenhouses – depending on the varieties involved.
Since European settlement there has been a well-developed flower and ornamental plant industry. Nurserymen and flower growers established nurseries in towns throughout the country and sold most of their stock locally. With the development of railways and roads, a few nurseries expanded to supply plants to distant buyers.
Duncan & Davies
In 1946 Duncan & Davies, a Taranaki nursery specialising in the propagation of trees and shrubs, became the largest nursery in the southern hemisphere, and sent plants and seeds throughout the country and overseas. In 2007 it was still one of the country's largest nurseries, supplying plants and shrubs to retail nurseries, and growing stock on contract for overseas nurseries.
As with vegetable growing, there has been a trend for small family-owned nurseries to be replaced by a few large producer nurseries who supply large retail outlets. It was the arrival of garden centres in the 1970s and 1980s that spelt the end for many small nurseries. For a time, some survived by offering mail-order services, but by 2005 that trade had all but ceased.
For most of the 20th century cut flowers were grown for the domestic market only. There was a mix of specialist growers and a number of small part-time growers. They produced single or limited lines of flowers, such as carnations, chrysanthemums or roses, and supplied florists in the towns and cities. This mix of full-time and part-time growers for the domestic cut-flower trade has continued into the 21st century. Many who enter the industry fall by the wayside – in the 2000s the average time new growers spent in the cut-flower industry was two years.
Roses have been the main domestic crop. They are grown indoors under controlled conditions to ensure year-round production of flowering stems.
Export of cut flowers, bulbs and tubers developed in the 1970s when regular flights to export destinations such as Japan, Europe and the United States began. Cymbidium orchids have been the mainstay of the export trade, although lilies, callas, hydrangeas, proteas, nerines, sandersonias and paeonies are also grown for export. The foliage of native flaxes and pittosporums is popular in overseas markets.
Cymbidium orchids are usually grown in the northern half of the North Island, and cool-climate requiring plants such as paeonies are raised in the southern South Island. Tulips and daffodils are grown in Southland for bulb export.
It is not economical for New Zealand rose growers to export their flower stems as they cannot compete with Kenyan and South American producers. On the other hand, New Zealand rose breeders have managed to conquer international markets with their new varieties. Rose-breeding nurseries in New Zealand are usually 1 to 5 hectares in size, mere pygmies compared to overseas rose farms that can extend for hundreds of hectares.
Bulb and seed sales to northern hemisphere buyers increased fourfold between 1996 and 2006. Much of this increase was due to the arrival of several large Dutch companies in Canterbury and Southland. Some 1,500 tonnes of bulbs grown on leased land were exported to the Netherlands in 2005.