Tuesday, March 1, 2011


“Let the buyer beware” is often appropriate to describe the marketing of plants at your local nursery and garden center.  Overall, plants are purchased based on consumer impulse and visual appeal rather than real knowledge of their characteristics, growing requirements, and potential.  This article was inspired by a recent visit to one of my favorite nurseries that has been noted for carrying native and adaptive plants recommended and proven to grow well and be environmentally friendly in central Texas.  I was shocked to see Rhododendron (yes the kind that thrives in the wet, cool, northern parts of the country which needs highly acidic, organic soils), Red-stem Dogwood and Lilacs which require significant winter freezing and acidic soil as part of their growth requirements,  along with several other plants that absolutely won’t make it here.   Plants like these are “dead upon arrival”  in central Texas gardens!    The uninformed gardener may buy this based on seeing pretty pictures of them in bloom in magazines or books not appropriate for our region, or remembering them from a past experience, but are unaware of how they are wasting their time and money to even attempt to grow them in central TX.  
I offer these tips to avoid these pitfalls when plant shopping:
  1. Know about the plants you are considering before buying.  There is an abundance  of region specific educational resources to help you either on the internet or through local garden organizations.
  2. Go plant shopping with a specific list or plants in mind that have been researched for suitability in central Texas, and don’t impullse buy when there.  Write down the name of the plant you might see and like and research it first before buying.
  3.   If you see “inappropriate” plants being offered for sale, don’t be tempted to try them   and let the management know about it.   This is an indication that the buyer for that nursery is either unqualified or uneducated in the horticultural business.  
  4. Many plants marketed in nurseries (if labeled at all) are incorrectly labeled.  I have noticed a beautiful selection of succulents at a local nursery with labels that merely said "cactus". They were not cacti to begin with and knowing the correct identity will help you know how to best grow it. Similarly, Bromeliads are often marketed with labels that merely say "Bromeliad".  I will not buy a plant unless I know it's real identity.  
Nurseries and plant centers stocking “dead on planting” selections need to be reported to the “Bad Business Bureau”.  They obviously don’t know what they are selling or if they do, they don’t care so long as a sale is made.   Perhaps the fault lies in the wholesaler and growers who convince local nurseries to buy inappropriate plant materials.  How can a grower in California, or Florida, or Minnesota know more about which plants will do well and please the gardener in central Texas.  We are blessed in the Austin area to have outstanding sources of information to help you select the right plants, save money by not having to replace them or use expensive and valuable water to keep them alive.  The Austin Grow Green program is a good place to start looking. The City of Austin Grow Green book free at any nursery or garden center is a must for every gardener in the Austin area.
There are plants being marketed inappropriately that can’t make it through the hard freezes or extremely hot and dry summers or intense light levels we often encounter in central Texas.  Some plants actually require a certain amount of freezing conditions and colder winters to grow well  in addition to some that can’t withstand temperatures below or above a certain level.  Some can’t tolerate the combination of wet and cold, and some can’t tolerate the intense summer sunlight in central Texas.  Plants grown in another region of the country are acclimated to light conditions there and are listed as “full sun” plants there whereas our light intensity in central Texas is too intense for them so they prefer and grow better in light shade.  So you can't always believe the information that is on the labels.   Bottom line is to know and learn about the plants in or contemplated for your landscape before venturing out to restock your garden.
I have noticed the retail prices of nursery plants have gone up significantly in 2011, probably due to increased fuel and transportation costs.  At the same time, most average consumers in difficult economic times are having to make their dollars stretch further.   This is all the more reason you may want to become better informed about smart plant selections beforehand so what you purchase will be a lasting, endurable, and environmentally wise investment rather than a waste of time and money.   

Another warning about Nursery and Garden Center products.   They market products that are harmful to your plants, your health, and the environment.  The # 1 product to avoid is "Weed and Feed" as they may contains a toxic herbicide called atrazine which if used around your shrubs and trees will kill them! It should not be used on residential property at all because, he roots of trees cover the entire property of most lots.  Atrazine is also poisoning our clean water sources which directly affects human health.  Furthermore, the two ingredients in these products aren't suitable to be applied at the same time. The pre-emergent herbicide part of the products needs to be applied about 2 months earlier than the soluble fertilizer part of the products.  Some of the specific products that you should avoid are Scotts Bonus S, Vigero, or any labeled Weed and Feed and/or contain atrozine.  

So,  shame, shame, on any local nursery who make bad choices and try to pass them on to the unwary consumers.   When you find a reliable, reputable, and knowledgeable nursery, reward them with your business.  The nursery business is a tough one, but also needs to be ethical.   Plants are more than just an item of merchandise, they are living things that you want to keep alive and cherish.

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