And there were signs the financial slowdown will not halt the phenomenal growth as some young couples put foreign holidays on hold to invest in home gardens instead.
Higher disposable incomes and increased home ownership were behind the green-fingered surge in demand as gardening continues to grow as a leisure activity.
According to a Teagasc report yesterday, 88% of Irish households have gardens, compared with 90% in Finland and Spain and 40% in Germany.
The higher number of people in older age groups is also fuelling demand for nursery production, with a big demand for ornamental plants of various sizes and types.
Paddy Gleeson, National Nursery Stock Specialist with Teagasc, said the continuing growth of the nursery stock industry is being fuelled by the enormous expansion in garden centre sales, which have grown by 54% since 1999.
“The dramatic change in consumer purchases at garden centres has seen demand spiral for large specimen plants and particularly evergreen herbaceous plants.
“The trend is towards impulse buying of colour plants. Price is not the sole issue. Aspects, such as visual impact, packaging and promotion, have a bearing on sales,” he said.
Mr Gleeson said home production of nursery stock has increased by 5% annually since 1997 and is set to continue on the same upward trend for the coming years.
Total output for the sector is expected to exceed €40m by 2006 compared to over 30m at present.
Exports are projected to double to €10m by 2006, driven largely by increased opportunities for Irish produce in Britain.
Mr Gleeson said higher wage costs, transport and insurance premiums are squeezing margins in nursery stock production.
The way forward is specialisation and co-operation.
“Individual producers should specialise in growing a narrower range of plants,” he said.