2.5 million a year and counting

In our own backyard resides the largest indoor florist azalea grower in the country. Imagine that. (We also have the world’s largest Thuja occidentalis, a.k.a. arborvitae, grower…but that’s a story for another time.) Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas Inc. operates out of Woodburn and ships its florist azaleas across the country. For Valentine’s Day this year, the nursery shipped florist azaleas to all 50 states in the union as well as Canada. It is the largest of three florist azalea growers in Oregon. Add in the one other grower in Florida, and you have the sum total of nurseries growing florist azaleas. There used to be quite a few more but the market is shrinking as access to other potted flowers—largely imports from South America, such as orchids—expands.

Florist azaleas have a German heritage and are used because of their heavier bud set. Typically, they are hardy to Zone 7 and can be planted outside in the Willamette Valley after blooming. With regular watering, my florist azalea lasted two months before heading outdoors. A good floral investment, I’d say.

Considered “the Cadillac of potted plants,” it takes 14 months to grow an azalea into a market-ready 4-inch pot and two years for a 6-inch pot. The nursery grows seven crops a year timed to respond to peak demand. They sell them either as “in color” or “budded.” (Budded azaleas, which are ready to force into color, are sold to other greenhouse growers around the country.) The most popular holiday for florist azaleas is Valentine’s Day, followed by Mother’s Day, Easter and Christmas. Five weeks in the cooler is needed for vernalization and the plants are shipped in temperature-controlled trucks set at 38° to 40° Fahrenheit. Interestingly, the nursery uses highly mechanized flooded-floor greenhouses to water the finished product. What water isn’t absorbed by the plants, recedes into the floor and is filtered and reused until the next scheduled watering.

Well known for its consistent quality, Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas started as a farming operation in 1962. They first started growing florist azalea liners in 1968 then added a budded line in 1972 and finally started shipping azaleas in color in 1990. To diversify their crops, they added nursery stock. Like so many nurseries in Oregon, they are family-owned with three generations involved in running the company.