White’s Nursery & Greenhouses Inc. began as a cut flower farm in the 1940s but has since blossomed into 21 acres of greenhouse production and 5 acres of field production.
Greenhouse Grower magazine ranked the Chesapeake business 79th in its 2015 list of the nation’s top 100 greenhouse operations.
“I never intended to go into this business,” said Norman White, president of White’s. But today he enjoys it so much his license plate reads “MR MUM.”
White’s nursery is typical of many within Virginia’s green industry, because the larger operations are getting larger.
In 2015, greenhouse and nursery products were Virginia’s sixth-largest agricultural commodity based on cash receipts. The diverse commodity generated $271.9 million in 2012.
“I would say that the industry is growing, large operations are getting larger and that there is a proliferation of small operations primarily servicing local foods,” said Dr. Joyce Latimer, a Virginia Tech horticulture professor and greenhouse crops specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Nationally, horticulture operations sold a total of $13.8 billion in floriculture, nursery and specialty crops in 2014, up 18 percent since 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
In Virginia, between the 2007 and 2012 U.S. Censuses of Agriculture, the number of floriculture farms under glass or other protection increased, as did the cash value of their products. Additionally, the number of greenhouse vegetable and fresh-cut herb operations increased significantly during those five years—from 76 to 245. And the number of nursery stock farms and square footage increased as well.
Greenhouses extend growing seasons, protect the quality of the products inside and eliminate damage from deer.
“We can produce Knock Out Roses three to four weeks sooner than our competitors who don’t use greenhouses,” said Tal White, the nursery’s general manager. “Ours are blooming by the end of March, but theirs aren’t ready until Mother’s Day.” That advantage is true for just about any plant or vegetable grown in a greenhouse, White said.
The Whites—Norman, daughter Dana, and son and daughter-in-law Tal and Sheri—grow a mix of 50 to 70 bedding plants; potted mums; seasonal flowers like Easter lilies and poinsettias; annuals; and hanging baskets containing a combination of annual flowers. The plants are sold in their retail center and to grocery store and garden center chains.