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Winter lingers, slows Armstrong greenhouse operators

Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Cory Troutman, 17, of Worthington, moves trays around on Wednesday, March 27, 2014, at Ford Flowers in West Kittanning. Most greenhouses are roughly two weeks behind because of extended cold weather, he said.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014, 12:31 a.m.

This year's bitter winter — which extended its reach well into March — has taken a toll on area growers.

Throughout the region this winter, 28 days had temperatures 10 degrees or lower, according to the National Weather Service in Moon. So far, this month is on target to be the seventh-coldest March since 1872, with an average temperature almost six degrees below normal.

“It's definitely affected business,” said Robin Ford, co-owner of Ford's Flowers in West Kittanning.

The nursery is open, but customer traffic is down from the numbers they usually get by late March.

Rows and rows of fragrant pansies in velvet purples, white, magenta and yellow fill a couple of greenhouses attached to Ford's Flowers along Butler Road. But several of their other greenhouses remain unheated to help reduce energy costs, at least until the spring planting season picks up.

“You can only make so much money on a flower,” Ford said.

Janet Robinson of Robinson's Greenhouses and Farm Market in Boggs said she and her husband, Don, haven't opened all of their 11 greenhouses because of high heating costs.

“There's no problem with how the plants are growing,” Janet said. “But it's been a tough winter, and we have very expensive heating bills.”

The Robinsons have the added expense of repairing a greenhouse that sustained wind damage during the winter.

Nurseries specializing in tree and shrub plantings have reason to be concerned about how the severe winter will impact their business. Trees and shrubs that are sensitive to sub-zero temperatures might struggle to bounce back from the harsh winter.

“Native trees, including maple, oak and blue spruce are all going to be fine,” said Shawn Hartman, who operates Stoney Hollow Nurseries and Landscapes in West Franklin.

He said some of the most beautiful landscape plantings tend to be hardy here, but suffer or die when temperatures get lower than normal in the winter.

“We already have a pretty long list of plantings we know we're going to have to replace,” Hartman said.

Hartman's father, Edwin, owns the nursery and has been in business for 41 years.

“My dad's said he's never seen anything like it,” Hartman said about damage caused to plants this winter.

A 25-year-old blue Atlas cedar died from the cold after years of tending.

A combination of sub-zero temperatures and foraging deer have wreaked havoc on non-native species, like imported Japanese maples and Cunningham's white rhododendron.

But Hartman said he's looking on the bright side of the hard winter: “I hope the June beetles and stink bugs are minimized this year,” he said.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or

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