Plants Are the New Toilet Paper

When everyone wants the same thing at once, stuff happens.

Remember the Great Toilet Paper Panic of 2020? Of course, you do. The horror is seared upon your brain – the long lines, the empty shelves, the search for alternatives (cruise guides?), and the nagging guilt for never having splurged for a bidet. It was ghastly.

That trauma may be behind us (see what I did there?), but another ominous threat lurks on the horizon. Friends of mine in the green industry are posting about an impending nationwide shortage of plants. They're calling their usual wholesale suppliers to get ready for the spring planting season and being told they may have to wait until May or longer.

We're not talking only about a paucity of euonymus, cotoneaster, privet, English ivy, blue rug juniper, and other garbage plants here. We're talking about pretty much everything – annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs, ground covers, and seeds. So if you're planning on ordering anything special online or through the mail, stop whatever you're doing, and PLACE AN ORDER NOW. There is not a moment to waste.

Why Is This Happening? Like most terrible things taking place now, the plant shortage has its roots in COVID. I surmise the following factors are involved, though there may be others.

The housing boom. Many people are no longer enamored of living in a big city. They view city life as unhealthy, unsafe, and unaffordable, so they're moving to the suburbs in a big way. New houses need new plants – lots of 'em.

Working from home means no more excuses. Guys used to be able to avoid yard work by saying things like, "I just need a few hours to unwind" or "Thanks to some idiot whose car hit a moose and caught fire, I was stuck in traffic for 13 hours!" No more. Now when the missus reminds you in a particularly unkind way that those bushes in front of the houses have been dead since the Clinton years, you make a beeline to the garden center to escape the line of fire.

You are bored out of your ever-loving mind. Current highlights of your day include checking for the mail, checking again a half-hour later in case you missed it, squealing with rapture at the approach of the mail truck, retrieving the mail, and then assessing and sorting each piece for proper priority in the opening ceremony. All of this takes approximately 10 minutes, so you think, "Maybe I should listen to Grumpy for once and try to grow something. That will take up some time."

You have been cooped up in the housed with the kids for the better part of a year and, frankly, you're sick of them. They wallow in last week's clothes while they text their friends for 16 hours a day and use the rest of the time whining about their needs, the most pressing of which are new ear buds, new hair, and more interesting parents. You distract them from their ennui by announcing a new project – growing things from seeds. Each day they can stare at the pot and see if the seedling has added a new leaf. "Mom! Mom! It's leaf number six! It's leaf number six! Woo-hoo!!" They text photos.

Green industry peeps are hoarding plants like toilet paper. Designers, landscapers, and garden centers are afraid they'll run out at a critical time and are scared witless. They don't want to be caught with their pants down.

I called the CPC (Center for Plant Control) yesterday and asked how long the plant-demic might last. They furrowed their brows, crunched the numbers, and said they have no idea. For now, the only answer is to buy whatever's left before somebody else does. You've been warned.

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