Texas tree growers will feel February freeze effects for years

Andy Uhler Apr 26, 2021
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Palm trees with fronds turning brown stand on Simmons Oak Farms just outside of Harlingen, Texas. Andy Uhler/Marketplace

Texas tree growers will feel February freeze effects for years

Andy Uhler Apr 26, 2021
Heard on:
Palm trees with fronds turning brown stand on Simmons Oak Farms just outside of Harlingen, Texas. Andy Uhler/Marketplace
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Simmons Oak Farms sits on about 120 acres just outside of Harlingen, right along the Texas-Mexico border. It’s where Audrey Hooks and her mom run the family operation.

They’ve got fields of trees and plants of all sizes: agave in 1-gallon pots in the nursery, huge yucca and live oaks in a field next door and rows and rows of palm trees.

“So this is a queen palm,” Hooks said as she pointed to some trees that are mostly brown. “You can see the green coming out the center, that’s how you know they’re still alive. But we’re not going to market this, because we want another head to grow so we can cut off all the brown and it looks good.”

It’s basic quality control. But her customers don’t want to hear that.

“We have people calling every day asking for these because they died in their yard and they just want to replace it with what they had before,” she said.

People like Robert Burk, who runs Mission Landscape Supplies in San Antonio. He buys a lot of plants from Hooks, but he’s not calling about replacing the tree outside his house. Burk is a wholesaler.

“Almost like a distribution center,” Burk said. “Kind of like a large commercial operation where we bring it in and sell it.”

He said these last couple of months have been unreal because right now everyone including homeowners, city parks, schools and businesses needs plants and trees.

“I mean, we’re busier now we’ve ever been ever,” he said. “But at the same time, we struggle to find material. We bring it in and it goes out the door.”

Agave in pots on Simmons Oak Farms just outside of Harlingen, Texas.
Agave at Simmons Oak Farms. (Andy Uhler/Marketplace)

Amy Graham, president and CEO of the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association, said her industry is tied directly to the housing market and the housing market in Texas was booming well before Winter Storm Uri.

“Our growers were already increasing the total numbers that they were growing for this year, anyway, but Storm Uri comes and it’s just like, ‘Oh my goodness, here we go,’ ” Graham said.

She said Texans that need trees for projects on a tight deadline are importing them from Florida, Georgia, California and other places, but trucking them in adds significant cost.

And because trees take years to grow before she can sell them, Hooks said, for her, the light at the end of the tunnel is a ways away.

“When you have a freeze like this that impacts every house in Texas, every business in Texas and every grower in Texas. We’re going to have a shortage for multiple years to come,” Hooks said.

She’s hopeful her business will be able to weather the wait and that demand for landscape trees is just as strong when inventory gets back to normal.

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