Seek guarantees when buying plants

As the weather warms and May approaches, stores are gearing up for plant sales. Like Christmas, stores receive a huge amount of merchandise at one time

As the weather warms and May approaches, stores are gearing up for plant sales.

Like Christmas, stores receive a huge amount of merchandise at one time. Unlike Christmas, the material is perishable and will die if it isn’t given the proper attention.

Water, sunlight and heat are needed to keep the plants healthy. Stores that can not keep up with the plant’s needs loose inventory and customers.

Many customers are slow to purchase and to come back if they notice wilting or dead plants. Other customers inquire as to when the next shipment is coming and shop on that day.

Small operations order their plants and plan when they want delivery.

Chain stores do not always have this luxury. Often the purchasing is done at head office and the plants are sent out to stores on the purchaser’s schedule regardless of the local climates. This forces the stores to find creative ways to care for their plants. Often in early spring one sees plants wrapped in tarps or placed inside of stores.

Chain stores have purchasing power that allows them to sell items at a lower cost than independent stores.

To counter this problem, independent dealers usually sell merchandise in different sized containers.

Independent growers rely on a returning loyal customer base. For this reason they sell plants that they know are hardy to the area.

Good sales people will warn customers if the plants they have chosen need extra protection or are not hardy.

Some of the large stores have knowledgeable staff but often they the people who work in the seasonal department. They are very good at setting up and insuring that all items are on show. They may or may not know anything about what they are displaying.

Unwittingly, the large box stores will often bring in plants that are not usually seen in our zone. Experienced gardeners will purchase some of the plants just to see if they will grow in their garden. It is seen as a challenge to the climate.

Unfortunately, inexperienced gardeners will purchase the same plants and they will be dead by next spring.

Instead of thinking that they lost a gamble the inexperienced gardener will put the loss of the plant down to their own gardening skills. After a few failures the inexperienced gardener is likely to quit gardening.

When purchasing trees or shrubs ask about the stores guarantee policy.

One store had a lifetime guarantee, but it is know longer in business.

In other words, the guarantee is as good as the store where it is purchased. All plants should last the season if they are planted and watered properly.

Guarantees are only valid if the bill of sale is kept and shown with the plant. Place the sales receipts in a place where they will be easily found in the spring. Know that stores that have guarantees in place have it built into their price.

Stores with guarantees are taking a gamble on their customers. They must assume that their customer will plant and care for the plant to the best of their ability. This is not always the case.

When making plant purchases this spring, go to a place that will give the quality of plants and the level of service that you are comfortable with.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at