Whether it’s shopping for a colorful pot of flowers to make a room pop or planning a vegetable garden, Long Islanders love checking out the offerings at their local nurseries when spring arrives. This year should be no different, authorities say, as buying and growing plants can provide a much-needed pick-me-up.

Many local nurseries have adapted to the new normal by remaining open as one of the state’s essential businesses and keeping in place or offering local deliveries to your door, curbside pickups, online ordering, in-store shopping by appointment, and outdoor checkout registers to adhere to social distancing guidelines. 

Brian Hahn, nursery mananger of Main Street Nursery in Huntington,...

Brian Hahn, nursery mananger of Main Street Nursery in Huntington, loads a customer's curbside purchase into her vehicle. Credit: Randee Daddona

And a dose of spring is apparently what the doctor is ordering for many customers these days, nursery owners and others say, with many seeing "about normal" or increased business springing up across the island. The nurseries sell everything from potted flowers, plants and seeds to dirt, mulch, gardening tools, decorative items and household gifts, with some also offering landscape design.

“I would say it’s pretty normal — and I’m happy about that,” Rich McKean, owner of Main Street Nursery, a flower, plant and landscaping business in Huntington, says of the number of customers he’s been seeing. “On nice days, it’s been very busy and the comments [from customers] we’ve been having is, ‘Thank god you’re open — we need something that can bring some joy to us.’ ”

Turning to the garden

Leslie Olsen, owner of Olsen’s Nursery in Nesconset, says her business has more customers for the same reason. She notes that “generally speaking,” around Mother’s Day people begin planting their annuals and vegetables but what she saw during April was customers looking for more of a quick fix.

“We’re definitely seeing an uptick but in the smaller items,” Olsen says. “People are coming in for one vegetable, or one flower, or a basket of pansies — they’re looking to make themselves happy.”

Shoppers plan their gardens at Main Street Nursery in Huntington.

Shoppers plan their gardens at Main Street Nursery in Huntington. Credit: Randee Daddona

Rose Hayden-Smith, the Ventura, California-based author of “Sowing the Seeds of Victor-American Gardening Programs of World War I,” says that turning to plants and gardening can have a calming effect in stressful times. "We always turn to gardening during times of crisis in this country. The last big surge of gardening interest was during the last economic downturn." 

Hayden-Smith gives as a historical example the influenza pandemic during World War l, when she says an increase in gardening occurred. “There was some degree of social distancing,” says Hayden-Smith, also an emeritus adviser with the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources cooperative extension. “There were restrictions on gathering in public in many places, many institutions were closed, and some municipalities required people to wear masks in public.”

Hayden-Smith says that in the current environment people are turning to gardening for many reasons including using it as a great family activity and acquiring new skills as reflected in the rise of other “home arts” such as baking. “It’s earth-friendly and connects people with nature,” she says. “It’s restorative and a way to be physically active. It feels as if it’s something we take positive action on.”

Finding a family project 

Karen Musgrave, marketing coordinator for Hicks Nurseries in Westbury, says “we’ve been really fortunate” with getting a lot of new customers this spring.

Social distancing measures are enforced at Hicks Nurseries, where virtual...

Social distancing measures are enforced at Hicks Nurseries, where virtual shopping options are also being made available for Long Islanders who want to get a head start on their gardens. Credit: Hicks Nurseries

“They’re at home for a length of time and discovering growing for the first time — it’s like food is becoming a family project. People are coming in who may remember having grown something like lettuce with their father.” She adds that in cooler weather such vegetables as lettuce, celery and spinach are planted and tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are among those planted after Mother’s Day.

“It’s still a little cool to be planting flowers,” Musgrave adds, “but flowers like pansies are some of the first spring color you’ll see in a garden and after Mother’s Day something like geraniums and marigolds.”

Landscaping at a distance

Landscaping to make front and backyards also aesthetically pleasing is also big in the spring, and Musgrave says Hicks has adapted to current conditions by offering new virtual landscaping services for customers not wanting to venture into the store. She says that includes “soup to nuts” help from design consultations to complete installations. “Customers can give us their ideas for what they’d like to accomplish and get a remote design from home and from a distance [in person].”

Some interesting friends can also be made by planting certain flowers, says Bill Koller, owner of Long Island Hummingbird Plants in Medford. He specializes in plants that attract the nectar-feeding bird known for its ability to hover and fly backward and that typically has a colorful iridescent plumage. His shop is open by appointment only, but curbside pickup is available as well as staggered shopping within the store, with one customer at a time allowed to enter and shop for 20 minutes.

Long Island Hummingbird Plants in Medford specializes in plants that...

Long Island Hummingbird Plants in Medford specializes in plants that attract hummingbirds to your garden. Some plants may attract butterflies too. Credit: Long Island Hummingbird Plants/Bill Koller

Flowers that attract hummingbirds include perennials such as day lilies, lupines, columbines and bee balms, biennials such as foxgloves and hollyhocks and annuals including impatiens, petunias and cleomes.

“It’s an amazing bird,” Koller says of hummingbirds. “If they find your garden and like it, they will come back and hover in your face right in front of you. I have one who comes and sits on the same branch every year and will come to the window so we’ll see it.”

Here are some examples of Long Island nurseries offering curbside, delivery or other options. Because of social distancing guidelines, the stores may limit the amount of people shopping inside at one time.

Olsen’s Nursery (386 Lake Ave. South, Nesconset)

Offering: Curbside pickup, delivery and in-store shopping

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Info: 631-265-8093, www.olsensnurseries.com

Hicks Nurseries (100 Jericho Tpke., Westbury)

Offering: Virtual landscaping design, curbside pickup, delivery, in-store shopping

Hours: Daily 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Info: 516-334-0066, www.hicksnurseries.com

East End Trees (168 Townline Rd., Kings Park)

Offering: curbside pickup, delivery, in-store shopping

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Info: 631-754-1051, www.eastendtrees.com

Suffolk Nursery (306 Hawkins Ave., Lake Ronkonkoma)

Offering: curbside pickup, delivery, in-store shopping

Hours: Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Info: 631-207-1080, www.uffolknursery.com

Bay Gardens (80 Montauk Hwy., East Moriches)

Hours: Daily 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Offering: curbside pickup, delivery, in-store shopping

Info: 631-909-4630, www.baygardens.com

Long Island Hummingbird Plants (10 Classic Court, Medford)

Hours: In-store shopping by appointment

Offering: curbside pickup, indoor shopping

Info: lihummingbirdplants.com