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Voices Of The Drought: Nurseryman Jon Reelhorn

Ezra David Romero
Valley Public Radio

This is the second piece in Valley Public Radio's occasional series, called Voices of the Drought. This week FM89 reporter Ezra David Romero visits with Fresno nurseryman Jon Reelhorn.

Jon Reelhorn wasn’t always a nurseryman. Back when he was a student at Fresno State he spent more time in the dugout than in the greenhouse.

"In every catastrophe there's somebody that does really well." - Jon Reelhorn

“I’m a city boy from Stockton that came to Fresno State on a baseball scholarship and it’s an ag school so you had to figure out what you were going to do,” Reelhorn says.

In 2001, he and his wife Connie took over the then small Belmont Nursery from its second generation owners. Today he farms 35 acres of flowers, shrubs and trees in East Fresno and markets them statewide.

In a normal year, Reelhorn would be busy planting for spring and summer gardening, but the drought has him questioning those plants.

“Everything looked good until the lack of rain came so we’re gearing up and planting more and more and more and betting that people that would buy the plants,” Reelhorn says. “Now you wonder should I keep planting if the summers dry and the cities put restrictions on the watering and then the homeowners don’t buy.”

purple prickly pear cactus
Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
Purple Prickly Pear Cactus are a big hit at Belmont Nursery, Reelhorn says.

But with the lack of rain clouds comes a silver lining. Reelhorn and I hop on a golf cart for a tour of the nursery in search of some of this year’s hottest products: drought resistant plants.

“Here’s an Australian Native called a Kangaroo Paw. Its drought tolerant,” Reelhorn says. “It’s a bright pink flower that looks like fuzzy little toes.”  

"We're hopeful, but you can't continue to throw money at new plants and production costs if you think the breaks are going to be put on during the summer time." - Jon Reelhorn

Walking out of the greenhouse over to the desert section of the nursery we see purple prickly pear cactus, which is popular with homeowners seeking to make their gardens more water-wise.

Reelhorn says his phone is ringing off the hook with inquiries like:

“Help me to change my yard over so I can reduce my water use,” Reelhorn says.

Even though business is up because of the drought, Reelhorn says the uncertainty brought about by the lack of rain “just makes it hard for us to forecast. We’re hopeful, but you can’t continue to throw money at new plants and production costs if you think the breaks are going to be put on during the summer time.”

He says drought resistant plants have become the big winner at his nursery.

“In every catastrophe there’s somebody that does really well, right,” Reelhorn says. “It’s a little bit like when the price of gas goes up little cars become popular. Then when the price goes down the bigger SUV’s become more popular. The plants have always been here, but now they will be more popular.”

But even with booming demand for plants that require less water, Reelhorn says other parts of his business statewide could suffer.

He hopes consumers “plant early so plants can be established before the summer heat comes.”

He also suggests homeowners who plan to garden this year, use drought resistant plants and best practices for water including drip irrigation. 

Ezra David Romero is an award-winning radio reporter and producer. His stories have run on Morning Edition, Morning Edition Saturday, Morning Edition Sunday, All Things Considered, Here & Now, The Salt, Latino USA, KQED, KALW, Harvest Public Radio, etc.
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