GARDEN centres across Dorset are expected to lose thousands of pounds as seasonal plants grown for the busiest time of year are to be destroyed because of the coronavirus lockdown.

Stewarts Garden Centre said they are fighting for their lives and they, along with hundreds of nurseries and growers around the country, face ruin as the horticultural market for Spring plants is shut down.

Because many of the plants are seasonal and perishable, they will have to be binned if they cannot be sold in garden centres that have closed because of the Covid-19 outbreak, the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) said.

“This couldn’t have come at a worse time for the whole horticultural industry,” said managing director Martin Stewart.

“We were doing absolutely fine until mid-March, we were doing deliveries and we had a website that was doing very well. Now we are totally closed.

“Some businesses were continuing to operate after the initial guidelines were announced but we didn’t want to risk the safety of our workers. Safety is number one, so we took the decision to close our centres.

The HTA is calling for Government support of the ornamental crop sector, which grows bulbs, bedding plants, cut flowers and pot plants for garden centres, supermarkets, florists and DIY stores.

The call has been backed by TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh, who warned of "irreparable damage" to gardens and open spaces if the sector is not supported.

The HTA says around 650 businesses across the UK produce ornamental crops, contributing £1.4 billion to the economy each year and employing more than 15,000 people directly and almost 30,000 indirectly.

Martin added: “April and May are our busiest months so our garden centres are filled up with stock, but we can’t see ourselves being open by then. Now most of that will be wasted.

“We have no idea of when we will be able to open again, you can’t get academics to agree on when it will be over.

“It is pretty damn difficult; we are fighting for our lives at the moment. We are taking each day as it comes but we fully intend to make it out the other side.”

HTA chairman James Barnes warned that growers are facing stock losses on an ever-rising scale as each day passes.

He said: "We are calling for the Government to work with the HTA, as the industry's representative body, to come up with a financial support scheme to help those businesses which have had to scrap perishable stock and are facing a huge financial crisis."