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Why do plant sellers work against themselves?


Most gardeners I know go to the nursery even when they aren’t looking for plants. They often buy things with no idea of where they are going to put them, just knowing that they NEED that plant.

But people who don’t consider themselves gardeners who buy plants to pretty up their landscape don’t buy things they don’t need. They buy the plants they need to make their landscape look decent and that’s it. If those plants die, they often either write it off as “Nothing grows there” or, worse, “I have a brown thumb and kill everything I try to grow.” But in many cases the people who sold them those plants are working against them. They go to a big box store where the person watering the plants doesn’t know a hydrangea from a holly, or receive advice about what to plant from a person anxious to sell a more expensive plant, without regard to the environment the homeowner intends to plant it in.

The cynic in me thinks that in at least some of these cases the plant seller is thinking about their bottom line, not their customer. I imagine that some could think, “I’ll sell them this expensive plant and when it dies I’ll sell them something else. I’ll get their money twice.”

I suppose that’s not really the way most plant sellers think. I suspect the ones who steer their customers in the wrong direction are not so much conniving as they are lazy. Either way, what they are doing is bad for the gardening business in general.

And that’s why I got really mad the other morning when I was flipping channels on my iPad (I love that I can watch cable on my iPad at home) and spotted flowers and stopped at QVC. They were selling a Stars & Stripes hydrangea set. It’s three macrophylla (mophead) hydrangeas and who would deny that those plants sitting in front of them are gorgeous?

But what irritates me is that they lead you to believe that they are going to look like that in your garden. In fact they are going to look BETTER than that in your garden. Do you see that plant he’s holding? That’s the size they ship you. It’s in a 4-inch pot! The information says that they reach “maturity” in three years, but I’ll bet a good number don’t make it through the first season. That size of shrub takes a lot of tending to grow.

Then it gets into zone information. They are supposed to be hardy to zone 4, and yes, they are root hardy, but as anyone in more northern zones knows, you might get a beautiful plant full of green leaves but few if any blooms. That’s because these bloom on old wood, meaning they set their buds in fall, and in many zones, most of those buds freeze. So here is QVC, which a lot of people believe only offers the best quality products, calling these hydrangeas reblooming. And they might be. In zone 7 or 8.

Of course there is a guarantee. And if you read that guarantee it says they’ll send you the same plant again if you call them within a certain amount of time. But you’re not getting your money back if it’s after their usual 30-day money-back guarantee window.

QVC, I suppose, doesn’t give a rip. They aren’t really looking for people to do their entire landscape in their plants. And more experienced gardeners wouldn’t fall for it. Between knowing about macrophylla hydrangeas and seeing those 4-inch pots (not to mention knowing what it takes to keep a blue hydrangea blue in all but the most acidic soils) and preferring to buy from local nurseries (or maybe checking out Cottage Farms on the Garden Watchdog), they would stay far away (although even veteran gardeners can get sucked in when they see beautiful blooms), but lesson experienced gardeners don’t know that, and think, “Wow, three hydrangeas for $26! I’ve seen just one plant for that. What a deal.” And they are doomed to almost certain failure. But odds are they don’t blame QVC for that. They blame themselves and get discouraged and vow to never spend money on plants again.

And that’s bad for everyone.

Although I feel like it’s probably the big box stores and QVCs  of this world who are most to blame, I’m not letting smaller nurseries and independent garden centers off the hook, because they play into this too. Every time I go to a nursery I find plants that are labeled a zone lower than other sources tell us they are hardy in. And I’ve been to one IGC that routinely sells plants hardy to zone 6 (we’re in zone 5) and only tells you when you question it that they will require “very good drainage but then they should be fine.”

Zone pushing does no one any favors. People who do well with plants become gardeners. And gardeners buy plants whether they need them or not. Non-gardeners shouldn’t be tricked into buying something that won’t work for them. They need to be helped by knowledgeable people, and told how to make their plants thrive, not shoved out the door after handing over their credit card.

Successful gardeners = successful nurseries.

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