A flourishing Midlands nursery claims it could be forced to close as a result of the price increases announced by energy firm npower.

Lynn Nurseries, in Lynn, near Shenstone in Staffordshire, has proved popular with horticulturalists and gardening enthusiasts since it opened in 2001.

However, supermarkets and DIY stores selling cheap plants, followed by last summer's wet weather, had already heaped pressure on Jenny Cartwright's business, and she now fears Midlands-based npower's 10.4 per cent increase could be the final straw.

The 54-year-old former teacher grows perennials and bedding plants on her three-acre site, many of which have to be kept in warm environments during winter, in greenhouses heated to 21C (70F).

"These have to be on continuously to ensure the plants don't die during the winter, so the difference in my energy bills is going to be enormous, at least £500 or £600," said Mrs Cartwright.

Unlike domestic customers, who can switch suppliers whenever they want, businesses have to sign short-term contracts of two or three years with energy firms, meaning many firms are locked into deals.

Npower, in announcing its regional pricing structure, is the third UK energy firm to do so, although British Gas have admitted they are considering this option too.

Mrs Cartwright, who employs three volunteers with learning disabilities who have struggled to find jobs elsewhere, has invested about £20,000 in the nursery over the past seven years.

She now fears time is running out unless the Government steps in to introduce tax breaks, similar to those offered to flower firms in the Netherlands.

"Npower's increase is going to have a fundamental effect on my business, it'll make it uncompetitive and I'm already struggling against Asda, Tesco and B&Q, who are able to sell plants very cheaply," said Mrs Cartwright.

"It's alright for them, as they sell other goods and can make money in other areas, but these extra pressures are adding up and the rise in energy prices could force me to sell up if we don't have a good year.

"Previously I used an oil burner to run the network of soil-warming cables, and when that became too expensive I switched to electric, but now I'm set to feel the pinch from that as well.

"There hasn't been any increase in the basic cost of plants for 15 years so I can't just pass this increase on to the consumer so instead I'll have to absorb the extra costs.

"Nurseries in this country don't get any of the financial support that horticultural firms in Holland get -they get tax relief on their business costs and so on - which would make a noticeable difference to small businesses like mine. Until we have a good year we won't be making any profit. This is going to be a very big problem - not just for me, not just for nurseries, but for all small firms."

Npower were last night unavailable for comment.