Ralph and Sandy Garrison, owners of Suncoast Nursery, Inc., might be more concerned about the cold wind blowing through Manatee County than most in the local farming community.
Their wholesale nursery operation at 6012 18th Ave. E. grows and ships tropical plants, such as Ficus lyrata, aglaonema and dracarnas.
It doesn’t have to freeze at Suncoast Nursery to raise the alarm. Temperatures in the lower 40s can be dangerous to plants that prefer the heat.
Ralph Garrison, bundled up in a parka and hat against the raw, chilling rain Wednesday, walked to one of his greenhouses, past extensive, unrepaired damage to his nursery caused by Hurricane Irma.
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The cold air mass seemed to promise even colder temperatures on Thursday and Friday.
“We are concerned. We’re closely monitoring it. We can’t take any chances with tropical plants,” Garrison said.
Garrison is using propane-fueled heaters at night to blow warm air through his greenhouses to keep plants from being damaged by the cold.
In their 40 years of operating the nursery, the Garrisons have faced plenty of challenges, from a Great Recession that dealt a heavy blow to their business to hurricanes that play havoc with greenhouses.
“I have 22,000 square feet of greenhouses I need to rebuild,” he said. “This cold weather is nothing new, but it is surprising considering we are coming off one of the warmest years on record.”
Elsewhere in the Manatee County farming community, some were welcoming the cold, rainy weather.
This cold weather is nothing new, but it is surprising considering we are coming off one of the warmest years on record.
Ralph Garrison of Suncoast Nursery, Inc.
“It’s beneficial, especially for our turf,” Gary Bradshaw, president of SMR Farms, said. “As long as it doesn’t get below freezing and stay there too long, we’ll be OK.
“Sometimes cloud cover will come in and keep the heat in.”
Bob Spencer, president of West Coast Tomato, said if there has to be a freeze, this may be the best time for one.
“There is not a lot left to pick, and we have not started planting for spring yet,” Spencer said of the tomato crop. “We have to monitor the forecast – it seems to be changing hourly.”
Dean Mixon, owner of Mixon Fruit Farms, said the cold weather might be beneficial.
“We have four years where the citrus trees have not gone dormant. It will also affect the bloom,” Mixon said.
“With canker and the greening, the trees are weak. Maybe it will kill the psyllid,” Mixon said of the pest that spreads greening. “Most of our fruit has already been harvested.”