Frequently Asked Questions: Garden WatchdogGeneral Questions
- What's the Garden Watchdog?
- Whatever happened to the Plants By Mail FAQ?
- Do I have to subscribe to your site to use this feature?
- What's the Watchdog 30?
- What are those Top 5 badges?
- How do I add (or update) feedback for a company?
- Can I see all the companies that sell similar plants, seeds, etc?
- What do the icons mean?
- Can I add a new company?
- Can I order a catalog?
- What if a company has moved, sold or closed?
- Company Confidential (Tips for Business Owners)
- Acceptable Use Policy
- Which Catalog to Order From
- Tips for choosing a good company
- Thoughts from a Vendor
- Trademarked Names
- Guide to Bare-Root Plants
The Garden Watchdog was launched in 2001 as an innovative and free new feature within Dave's Garden. As its name suggests, the Watchdog's mission is to protect and serve gardeners by providing buying information at our reader's fingertips.
The Watchdog was the first online directory to provide powerful searching and browsing capabilities coupled with an instantaneous feedback mechanism. As such, it serves as a central clearinghouse for word-of-mouth information about thousands of mail-order garden companies, with comments going back more than a decade. We don't make claims about being more informed on this topic than your average Joe - the comments you read here are from other gardeners and consumers just like you.Back to the top
In 1995, Joe Robinson assumed the editorial responsibilities, and faithfully updated the entries with new comments until 2002, when he turned over the site to the Garden Watchdog to maintain and enhance. The comments submitted to the PBM-FAQ were integrated into the Garden Watchdog later that year.
In the original Plants By Mail website introduction, Peter Leppik noted two common questions posed by gardeners: "How can I reach XYZ nursery?" and "The ABC Seed Company sent me a catalog. Are they any good?" He expressed his hope that he would be able to answer these questions in a reasonably definitive manner and provide the neophyte with some introduction to buying plants by mail. We think it's fair to say that in the many years following its launch in 1994, the Plants By Mail (PBM) succeeded in answering these questions for many of us.
Some exceptionally useful mailorder information was written and edited by Peter and Joe, and has been maintained within the Garden Watchdog - just look further down this list of questions to locate information on such topics as:
- Which Catalog to Order From
- Tips for choosing a good company
- Thoughts from a Vendor
- Trademarked Plant Names
- Guide to Bare-Root Plants
You can even remain completely anonymous while you search for companies and read the feedback others have submitted. However, to leave a comment for a company, you must register a free username, which allows you to have a unique identity on our site while safeguarding your email address.
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The Garden Watchdog has long had a list of top-rated vendors, almost from the beginning. However, as the number of companies (and categories) grew, it became apparent that a lot of really great--but smaller--companies are not likely to make the Top 30 list, because they have a limited audience of customers. Our goal has always been to shine the spotlight on your favorite companies (and there are a lot of them) as well as to give you a place to warn others about the occasional bad experience. So a few years ago, we did two things to bring more exposure to the smaller companies:
- We limited everyone to two specialty categories. (Companies that offer a wide variety of plants, seeds, bulbs or garden products are recognized as generalists within their listings.)
- We awarded "Top 5" badges to recognize the top contenders in each specialty category. (Companies in categories where there are fewer than 5 companies with ratings, are not included.)
These badges are awarded each year, and we hope that more categories will be able to recognize the best vendors within their area of specialty.
You can help: Be sure to leave feedback every time you order plants, seeds, bulbs, or gardening supplies by mail or online. As always, what you know will help others, and now it can also help your favorite companies receive recognition they deserve.Back to the top
Leaving feedback is easy:
- Read the Acceptable Use Policy
- Register for a free username and log in
- Locate the entry for the company you wish to leave feedback for and scroll down past the contact information and any other comments until you find a link to "Click here to add your own comment and rating to this company".
- Carefully read and follow the guidelines, then type your comment and check the rating you feel is most appropriate: positive, neutral or negative. (Your feedback won't post if you don't select a rating.)
Updating your rating or adding to your original comment is just as easy. Look in the same location for a link which reads: "Add more details to your own comment and rating."
Note: You can add to what you wrote previously, but you cannot edit your original comment. If you change your rating, be sure to provide an additional comment to let others know why you've upgraded or downgraded your opinion of the company.
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Ye, you can browse for all companies that sell a particular category of plants, seeds, bulbs, or other gardening merchandise. The "browse by" dropdown list is beneath the Garden Watchdog Top 30 and most recently-added reviews.
If you've searched for a company by name, you can also click on any of the categories listed beneath its contact information to see other companies that sell similar items.
You can view the resulting list alphabetically by company name, or by location. (Click on the column heading "Location" to sort them by city and state or province.)
Occasionally you will see an editor's icon next to a company's name. Here's what they each mean:?: We have a question about this company - if you can provide information, please contact us
: Pretty self-explanatory. We maintain the listing (usually without contact phone, street address or email link) so that former customers can discover what happened, rather than wonder if we simply overlooked a longtime favorite vendor.
Thousands of mailorder gardening companies are listed in the Watchdog, but there's always room for more! If you know of a company not yet in the Garden Watchdog, you can add it yourself or email us and we'll add it.
Before submitting a company, be sure the company accepts orders via mail, telephone or online. Vendors who sell only at their retail location will not be added to the Watchdog. Include a link to their website, their mailing address, and/or telephone number and any other contact information you have.Note: Unfortunately, there have been a few vendors whose unethical and unprofessional conduct have led to their removal from the Garden Watchdog. If they are resubmitted, we will decline the submission. Generally speaking, it's also a good idea to contact the Better Business Bureau to ascertain any company's track record with their customers. Back to the top
Sorry, but sending an email to us will NOT get you a catalog! Back to the top?" or "Closed" icon next to a company's name. That means we're unsure of a company's status, or we've been advised it has closed.
This type of information frequently comes to us from helpful readers who let us know when a company's status has changed. If you discover a company has moved, sold, or closed, please contact us with your information. Back to the top
How did I get listed?
Our listings come from one of two main sources: readers who suggest companies to add, and through our own research efforts (we scour books, magazines, and online lists to bring our readers a wide variety of mail-order sources for all their gardening needs.)
How can I be added to the Watchdog?
If you accept orders via mail, online or telephone, we'd be delighted to list you in our directory, regardless of where in the world you are located. Wholesalers are welcome, too. (We can designate your company's entry as "wholesale orders only" to minimize retail sales inquiries.)
You can add an entry for your own company (a link is found beneath the most recently added comments), or contact us with your full company name, address, website, email, and types of products/services you offer.
How do you select the Top 30 companies?
The Top 30 is based strictly on a mathematical formula that
considers all ratings submitted by gardeners. We use a
calculation that gives each company a ranking by weighting newer
comments more heavily than older comments and negative comments more
heavily than positive comments.
We weight newer comments more heavily so a company that hits a rough
patch can eventually recover when their renewed commitment to quality
products and service is consistently reflected in the more recent
comments. We weight negative comments more heavily to prevent a
company from making the top list by sheer volume of feedback - if a
significant portion of their feedback is negative.
Is there a charge for being listed in the Watchdog?
No. The listings are free, and since we don't accept advertising, there isn't a "two-tiered" system, where companies that pay for a listing are highlighted or given preferential treatment. There is no charge for users accessing the site; we simply provide this feature for the benefit of our members who are looking for places to purchase plants, seeds, bulbs, or any other gardening item.
How do I change my information?
If any contact information or categories need to be updated or changed, please contact us with the corrections. We send out an annual verification via email to all the companies in the Watchdog, so you can periodically review and correct your information.
Will you sell my email address?
No. We do not sell, share, or otherwise disclose any personal information (including email addresses) for any user of our site. We don't display company email addresses within your listing, so when a customer contacts you through our site, your address is hidden from their view until you choose to reply. (We don't like junk email or "spam", either.)
How will I find out when feedback has been left?
You are welcome to stop by and review your listing as frequently as your schedule permits; however, the best way to know when a comment has been submitted is to designate a representative who will receive an email alert each time a customer leaves feedback. We know business owners are busy folks, so we make it as easy as possible for you to rest assured that you are kept updated on what customers are saying about your company, without having to remember to check up on your entry periodically.
What if the feedback is unfair or inaccurate?
We encourage all users to first attempt to work out an unsatisfactory experience directly with the company, and if that doesn't work, to make sure their feedback is constructive and factual. However, from time to time, a comment is left that doesn't tell the whole story. In those cases, you may post a rebuttal. (You must be logged in as your company's representative to post a response; if you need assistance with this process, please contact us.)
Our firm policy is that we will not remove or edit on-topic reviews, for any reason.
Can I contact users who leave feedback for my company?
Yes. When you are logged into the Watchdog, you'll be able to email users who have left feedback for you. This is encouraged specifically in instances where you are trying to resolve a customer complaint. Please bear in mind that your message reflects directly on your company's image; attempting to harass users into changing their rating is not permitted.
How can I encourage feedback from my customers?
One of the best ways to get feedback is to add a link to the Watchdog from your website, and invite your customers to rate you. Many companies listed have done this, and they enjoy a steady stream of comments from their customers. If you need assistance in adding a link, please contact us.
If you have a mailing list of established customers, you may wish to advise them that you've been added to the Watchdog, and invite them to leave feedback for you.
Can I offer an incentive for positive feedback?
In a word, no. It is considered unscrupulous and unethical business practice to solicit feedback in exchange for discounts, free merchandise, etc. The Watchdog administrators constantly scan feedback for unusual activity or patterns. If they determine that feedback is being coerced with threats or enticements, the comments will be removed from the ratings calculation, and the company's tactics will be disclosed within their entry.
Some companies use the Watchdog as their online rating service. We monitor these situations, and as long as users are not motivated by discounts or freebies, it's perfectly permissible to direct your customer comments to the Watchdog.
Can I leave feedback for my own company?
Again, no. It might seem silly to even include this question, but it has happened from time to time. Most of the time, it happens when a new company attempts to leave a "company comment" explaining who they are and what they sell, and it's inadvertently submitted as customer feedback. In those instances, we will edit the comment so that it is properly displayed as a comment from the company.
To our deep disappointment, we have also encountered a few instances where a company intentionally posed as a customer in order to inflate their rating and/or counteract negative comments. When it is determined that comments were falsified by a company in order to inflate their rating, the details will be disclosed on their entry for their customers to read.
To be perfectly clear: We take a strong stand against any falsified feedback, because we know that many gardeners from around the world have come to rely on the Watchdog as their source of trusted recommendations from other gardeners. We want to maintain their trust by ensuring the comments (positive or negative) are genuine.
What if I have other questions?
Please contact us. We're here to help bring companies and customers together.Back to the top
The administrators assume no responsibility for consequences resulting from the use of the information herein, or from the use of the information obtained at linked Internet addresses, or in any respect for the content of such information, including (but not limited to) errors or omissions, the accuracy or reasonableness of factual or scientific assumptions, studies or conclusions, the defamatory nature of statements, ownership of copyright or other intellectual property rights, and the violation of property, privacy, or personal rights of others. The administrators are not responsible for, and expressly disclaim all liability for, damages of any kind arising out of use, reference to, or reliance on such information. No guarantees or warranties, including (but not limited to) any express or implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for particular use or purpose, are made by the author with respect to such information.
At certain places on the Garden Watchdog site, links to other Internet addresses can be accessed. Such external Internet addresses contain information created, published, maintained, or otherwise posted by institutions or organizations independent of the Garden Watchdog and its administrators. The Garden Watchdog does not endorse, approve, certify or control these external Internet addresses and does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, efficacy, timeliness, or correct sequencing of information located at such addresses. Use of any information obtained from such addresses is voluntary, and reliance on it should only be undertaken after an independent review of its accuracy, completeness, efficacy, and timeliness. Reference therein to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, service mark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the Garden Watchdog and its administrators.
The submitted comments and opinions of mail-order firms, good and bad, are those of their submitting authors, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Garden Watchdog administrators.
REGARDING COMMENTS OF UNPLEASANT NATURE:
Once in a while we get requests to remove remarks, usually from a company representative who, for whatever reason, does not agree with a comment made about their firm. Hence, the following:
The Garden Watchdog allows public comments to be posted according to the terms outlined in the Acceptable Use Policy. To retain impartiality, we do absolutely NO moderating or editing of submitted comments, other than to remove material that is not a comment about a company. Such editing may include (but is not limited to) removing requests for additional information about a specific plant, and removing formatting errors. Comments used for the purpose of bumping a post up on the page are not allowed.
The Garden Watchdog will not remove comments unless the user requests the removal of their comment. To do otherwise defeats the impartiality of the Garden Watchdog.
Companies are welcome to respond to comments which they might believe unfairly represents them. These comments will be posted directly beneath the comment in question, following the same guidelines as outlined above.
Frankly, the most effective comment a mail order firm may post is, "We contacted Mr./Ms. Gardening Person, and took care of their problem."
The View From the Other Side
Reputable mail order plant firms will always try to create happy customers--and the only way they'll ever know (short of reading their firm's customer-submitted evaluations here) is when their customers contact them. From Renee Beaulieu, who handles public relations for White Flower Farm: "We do try to be responsive to customer complaints about White Flower Farm and also about our sister companies, the Daffodil Mart and Shepherd's Garden Seeds. I was sorry to see a customer complaining about Daffodil Mart, but he never called us to make it right! I'm sure that happens a lot, but I wish people would take the time to call." There are times when a gardener inadvertently makes it difficult for the mail order firm to fulfill an order. Below is an example provided by Ernest Koone, owner of Lazy K, and it's a goof every person who orders by mail should avoid -- it's embarrassing:
"I recently received a catalogue request (from my classified ad in Fine Gardening) as follows: "PLEASE SEND ME A PRICE LIST. SINCERELY, RAY". No return address. So, one of these days, you will probably receive an indignant missive from Ray to the effect that I neglected to respond to his request for a price list. You can't win 'em all!!"Back to the top
Should I order from a specialty catalog?
If you are buying hard-to-find varieties, you will probably have to order from a company that specializes in those plants. There are numerous specialty companies, and you will frequently get better selection, quality, and price than you would from buying from a catalog which doesn't specialize in one particular plant.
However, this rule of thumb doesn't necessarily apply in all situations. For example, some gardeners report better success with bulbs purchased from a "general catalog" outfit than from bulb specialists. Same goes for woody ornamentals, houseplants, etc. Not everyone will agree on this point, or on which companies are "the best". Which is why the Garden Watchdog is helpful - you can compare specialists to generalists, and read the opinions about various companies before deciding where to spend your gardening dollars.
Should I order from a Watchdog 30 company?
These companies are considered the cream of the crop by gardeners like you, based on positive comments they've received. You would do well to consider them among your choices. But there may be other companies that haven't yet been discovered by the masses, so be sure to look at all your options before deciding.
Are any of these companies related?
The mail-order gardening industry has seen its share of mergers, acquisitions, and spin-offs. We do our best to keep all the business relationships documented, and you can see the list of who owns whom in the link below. When you're browsing the Watchdog, you may also notice that some companies are listed as affiliated with one or more other companies. We provide this information as an "FYI" to our users. If you're aware of any business affiliations we've missed, or companies that are no longer connected, please let us know.Back to the top
By Leppik/RobinsonIf you are like most gardeners, you probably have a dozen or two catalogs from various places, some fancy, others plain, and you're wondering who to order from and how to tell the difference between a place that really cares, and a place that is just trying to unload some poor, pathetic bits of green stuff on The Gullible Majority. In this section, we will outline what a good mail order company should do, and what you should consider before buying a plant sight-unseen. Keep in mind that this is aimed at the relative neophyte, who needs a little more service than the extremely experienced gardener. There are plenty of companies that provide good plants, but don't offer the level of service than many gardeners need.
What information does a good company provide?
- Every plant (excluding annuals) in the catalog should have a clearly indicated hardiness range. That is, for every perennial (anything you expect to last more than one year) should have indicated which USDA hardiness zones it will survive in. Simple adjectives like "hardy," or "tender," are NOT sufficient. Perhaps I am biased but I have seen too many catalogs that do not include this crucial information. Without knowing this, it is too easy to buy plants that won't survive in your climate. This also includes those of you who live in places like Southern California, where it never gets cold, since some plants require a period of cold temperatures every year in order to survive/bloom/etc. Don't know your Zone? Here is a link to a USDA Hardiness Zone chart.
- Every plant should have its botanical (scientific) name listed. This may sound picky, but think about it: if you ever want to get information on this plant from some other source, and they use their own name, you might have a devil of a time figuring out how to get information. A plant's botanical name is unique. I have seen places that will take a standard variety of some plant, come up with a flashy (trademarked) name, and sell it as something special. Needless to say, this is dishonest. Read more about Trademarks.
- Information on the habitat requirements should be easy to find. By this, I mean answers to questions like how much sun does it need, how much water, and so forth. Nearly every catalog has this, but if you see one that doesn't, stay away.
- A good company will be able to answer questions about their products. Really, this is basic. If you call them, and ask about something, they should be able to answer your question. If they can only take orders, this is a Bad Sign. (By the way, in many places, you can call your local County Extension office to get information about plants, too.)
- Dave Green runs a pretty hip site on pollination. This paragraph is from a note he sent the PBM in Spring of 2000: "In addition to your good thoughts, I'd like to see accurate pollination info provided by nurseries, including correct use of the terminology. Some nurseries say "pollinator," when they mean "pollenizer" or falsely claim that a particular fruit is self pollinating, when it is actually is merely self fertile and misleads consumers into thinking that bees are not necessary. See: http://pollinator.com/pollenizer_pollinator.htm Fruits that are not well known in the US market should have additional information. For example, Feijoa is normally pollinated by a species of bird in its native range, which does not exist in the US. So those who plant this fruit here may have pollination problems; they may need to hand pollinate. Kiwifruit is difficult to pollinate, because the flowers are unattractive to bees. You need to either have 1. a very high population of bees so that *some* will visit anyway, or 2. hand pollination. Since male and female flowers are on separate vines, this is very important knowledge."
- Finally, a word about guarantees. Every mail order catalog that I've seen offers some sort of guarantee. This should NOT be a factor in deciding where to buy. After all, what good does it do if they replace a plant that died because you can't grow oranges in Alaska? The replacement will just die, too, and you'll spend twice as much time on a plant that was Never Meant To Be. Some people have even noted an inverse relation between the quality of the guarantee and the quality of the plants: the louder the company proclaims its "FOOLPROOF 100% MONEY-BACK GUARANTEE," the worse the plants are when they arrive.
What should I consider before ordering?
Okay, so you've got your heart set on the beautiful Creeping Green Stuff. Before plunking your money and time on it (usually more time than money), you should stop and ask yourself a few questions:
- Will it grow in my area? If they don't make it CLEAR (i.e. by telling you the hardiness zone), then avoid that plant, or buy it from somebody who will tell you.
- Do I have a place to put it? It is very easy to get spring fever when all the catalogs start arriving midwinter, and wind up buying enough plants to cover every square inch of your yard two or three times over. Make sure you have a specific place for each and every plant you order, and make sure you will have the time to plant it when it arrives. Keep in mind that you will probably have to plant them soon after they arrive, and you might not be able to control the exact day they arrive. Thus, ordering 150 bushes for a new hedge from one place, all of which will arrive via UPS on the same day and need to be planted immediately, is probably not a good idea. Believe me. I've done it. Twice. And I'll probably do it again (some people never learn).
- Will it really look the way I want it to? Keep in mind that the pictures in the catalogs are designed to sell plants, and the plants in your garden will generally not look quite as nice. Also keep in mind that illustrations (and photographs) can be very deceptive.
By Joe Robinson
I received a note one day with the subject line: "Wow! I think this site is great!" Humble person that I am, I gave thanks. It's nice to be appreciated. Then I saw that the author was not a mail-order customer, but a mail-order vendor. My turn to say, "Wow."
The author asked for anonymity, because in their words, "I work at a retail gardening center that also ships plants nation-wide. Please don't use my name or e-mail or even where I work, as I want to be totally honest with you, have a big mouth, and would hate to get myself in trouble by something I said! LOL!"
The material is worth reading. I've included it all at once rather than scattered all over the FAQ:
"I am very proud working at xxxxxxxxxxx and have worked there for going on 4 seasons now. I work mostly in perennial retail but have also worked for mail order and have packed many a plant for shipping. Gee, where to start. Okay...
- Where is the greenhouse located? We can keep the plants warm, watered and fertilized, and spray for pests, but the one thing we can't do is provide sunlight! If we have a cold, cloudy, dreary, almost no sun, winter and spring, guess what folks? Some of our plants (especially full sun) will not do well or get that big by the time we start shipping (the first week of April) It simply is not cost efficient to add lighting in a greenhouse and it definitely makes a difference how much sun we get. You don't need much, but you do need some!
- I am not sure of other greenhouses but we don't grow all of our plants from scratch (or seed). We grow a lot from seed, winter over a lot of our plants and then transplant now, buy in plants and bare root stock from other commercial nurseries, and also propagate others. Two years ago, when we went to order grasses from our supplier, we could not get all of what we needed, thus we ended up not having enough grasses for the season. Last year we ordered double the grasses so that we would definitely have enough for last season and this season.
- That brings us to a term some customers are unfamiliar with in regards to nurseries; CROP FAILURE! Yes, for known or unknown reasons we have had our own plants fail OR something we've ordered in fail, OR unable to get something from a commercial nursery because THEY'VE had a crop failure! After all, we aren't talking about refrigerators or cars here, but plants - living breathing things that can have a mind of their own at times. How many times have you planted something in an area that was suppose to be perfect for it, and the plant didn't do that well? Most of the time a plant will do well if you follow the instructions for what it likes (e.g., acid soil, full sun, etc.) but every once in a while, no matter what you do, you can't get a certain variety to grow!
- Check for bugs when you get your shipment! If you think bugs like your garden, how do you think they like ours? With acres of tender, green plants, constant warm temperatures, and very few other pests, ALL greenhouses have problems with spider mites, thrips, aphids, etc. Yes, we spray, but come on; these bugs have been around since plants began, and will probably still be here long after man has gone! We fight them the best we can, and we try very hard not ship them to you, but sometimes we miss them or they don't come out until after we ship out your plant to you.
- Know when your delivery person comes to your area. For example, we ship FedEx and I know the Fed EX driver usually comes in the morning in my neighborhood. So, if I order plants from some place and expect them to come on a weekday when I am working, I know that box of plants will be sitting outside my door ALL DAY! They should survive if packed right, but if we get a sudden snowstorm or a heat wave, I would certainly expect them to be wilted or maybe even frozen. I feel that that is the chance I take, unless I make other arrangements to have them delivered to someone that I know will be home! Also, we don't know what the weather will be like in Nebraska, two days from now when we ship your order. If there is a natural disaster and the shipping company tells us that they can't ship there because of it, well okay. But otherwise, we simply try to ship your order for the date that your area is usually safe to plant by.
- We don't know what will be the new "hot" plant for each season. There is always certain plants that are generally popular, there is usually a large demand whenever something is offered for sale, OR is the Plant Of The Year. We can make predictions and try to push certain plants that we may have a lot of, but plants, like people's names, go in streaks for popularity. So sometimes we are inundated with orders for a certain plant that we have always had, but never a HUGE seller. Maybe it was displayed at a garden show, or on a gardening show on TV.
- Check for the size of the plant or the size of the pot when planning your order. I can't tell you how often someone has called to complain that they were expecting a full sized plant! Even when we stated in our catalogue EXACTLY what size we shipped our plants in! It just would cost too much to ship the weight of a full size plant! LOL! Well, I suppose I should shut up for now. Thanks for listening and hope this gives you some helpful tips."
Please send all suggestions, comments, corrections, and so forth to us through this linkBack to the top
By Joe Robinson
The trend toward trademarked plant names is accelerating, and it can only cause problems for the buyer down the road.
Species, variety and cultivar names cannot be trademarked--each is unique to a specific plant. Trademarked names are not so tightly tied up--the plant you might see listed as Flash (tm) in 2003 might not be the same cultivar listed as Flash (tm) in 2004's catalog.
The following scenario is a bit more likely:
You read about a terrific grass plant in GruberPlant's catalog, and so order three of Horsetail Wonder (tm) at a premium. Couple of catalogs later, another ornamental grass catches your eye, and so you order a couple Miscanthus 'Red Royal'. From the description, it sounds like it will be a nice accent to the Horsetail Wonder (tm). You sit back, visions of these striking grasses accenting your border garden dancing in your head.
Come March, the parcels arrive. You plant 'em out, and by September you've noticed they look an awful lot alike. By October you've figured out that you've ordered the same plant from two places. What happened? How can they do that?
Easy. Although the plant patent has expired, giving all growers the ability to sell Miscanthus 'Red Royal', the renewable trademarked name for the plant has not. No one else but GruberPlant can sell it as Horsetail Wonder (tm). And GruberPlant intends to get its money's worth.
Yea for the USDA
Seed catalogs are supposed to list clearly the Registered name and the botanical name, including cultivar name if there is one. That's part of the Seed Act, enforced by the USDA. If you really read your catalogs, you can be fairly certain in your selection.
The same thing is supposed to be true for plants. The Seed Act doesn't cover plants, though. The USDA's jurisdiction over the sale of plants mixes in with the FTC's, through a maze of agencies including the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA)/Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS), and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). And the FTC has a lot of other things they consider more important than regulating vague language in plant catalogs. (Thanks to the nameless colleague who walked me through this last bit. I haven't asked for permission to attribute, so they will remain nameless.)
Recently, a Texas-based plant by mail firm wrote to point out that they receive annual inspections by the Texas Department of Agriculture in order to receive what they call a "fire ant stamp." It's an inspection stamp, issued by the USDA, and when you see the stamped imprint on a box, it means the USDA has determined the nursery's quarantined area free from fire ants. (In other parts of the country, it means free of some other pest.) So, as implied by the stamp, the USDA does have jurisdiction in the sale and transport of plant material, but just try to figure out which branch to contact over the issue of Horsetail Wonder (tm).
Thanks to Adam J. Holland, of Acorn Springs Farms, whose series of informative emails provided the catalyst to begin a review of this section.Back to the top
Is this plant dead or what?
If you've never ordered bare-root plants before, the most important thing to do when your bare-root plant order arrives is DON'T PANIC! Take a few deep breaths.
The reason your roses/trees/whatever arrived without any dirt is not because the company sent you dead plants. Shipping woody plants without dirt ("bare-root") is standard. First, it does not harm the plants much, as long as the company has taken steps to ensure that the roots don't dry out. Usually, this involves dipping the roots in some sort of stuff that helps retain moisture. Second, shipping plants bare-root helps keep shipping costs down. Shipping with dirt could easily double or triple the weight of the plant when shipped, and make it that much more expensive to buy. Finally, shipping plants bare-root helps prevent the spread of pests that live in the soil (like the Japanese beetle). Needless to say, unless you're buying small seedlings, it would be expensive for a company to grow all their stock in greenhouses.
Why didn't they ship my plant in a container?
There are places that ship plants in pots. Shipping a plant with the dirt will be less traumatic to the plants, and, as a rule, you can expect these plants to be healthier. But because of shipping expenses, they will often also be much smaller than bare-root plants--and more expensive. Given the option, I will usually buy the plant shipped in a pot, since the quality is often much higher. In addition, there are some plants which have to be shipped in pots, simply because they're too fragile otherwise.
What should I do with this plant?
Usually, the first thing to do (with bare root plants) is to stick them in a bucket of water for some time. You should do this as soon as they arrive. Generally you will get a little booklet with your order explaining how to plant your new plants. If so, read it. Then dig a hole according to the booklet instructions, and plant those buggers.
How long should it take for the plant to show some signs of life?
It may take some time for your new plants to leaf out, especially if they're dormant when shipped. Again, don't panic. If you planted in the spring, don't call the company to complain that the plants looked dead through midsummer. They'll just tell you to wait, because sometimes the plants take a while to adjust to their new surroundings. Read your paperwork - it will likely tell you how long to wait, and what to do if the plant has not emerged from its dormant state by the end of the waiting period.Back to the top