When I lived in CA, I was a long time customer of the Santa Margarita Nursery. Burt (the late owner) was kick, and produced an incredibly informative and humorous website, which his daughter now maintains. Great place for natives and especially for knowledge of native plants. Never been to the other location. Had a great deal of respect for Burt and his endless quest for in-depth knowledge of native plants.
I drive by the Escondido about evry other month on my way to pick up job materials from some of the big grower operation in their area. I finally stopped in and was as unimpressed with them in person as I have been over the phone and online.
My first experience with them was a phone call. Their online availability listed a few species of plants in quantities of less than five. My experience as a former nurseryman and a (currently) landscape contractor tells me when an inventory lists 3 of something it is best to confirm that they are still there and that they are in good health (the leftovers at nurseries are often marginal at best.) So I called. The woman that answered said "check the online inventory" and hung up.
I then tried to email, and got, literally, the exact same response. The problem is I didn't ask "do you have", I asked "what condition are they in?"
Most recently, due to desperation, I again tried to contact them about a few plants that are out of stock at Moosa Creek Nursery as well as at Recon Native plants. I inquired about four species of plants, all of them listed on the availability though some were still in production. I got this two sentence reply, "We do not have the material you are looking for in stock at this time. Please check our availability on our website." No additional info about when the plants in production would be ready, no details about why the plants that are listed as available on the online inventory aren't, and none of the basic courtesies often extended by normal human beings when replying to a customer inquiry.
Thing is it took a days to get a reply, I'd already been to the nursery. There were only the four of us there, two employees and a shopper. The employees were too busy chatting to even say hello, welcome, how are you doing, what can I help you with; none of that.
There are other options for California natives in San Diego county.
I have a generally positive experience with this company though limited and it comes with some very mild reservations. I have only ordered twice from Las Palitas, though I have ordered over 2100 plants over the past 16 yrs from at least 9 different mail order companies. I would order more from Las Palitas except (here is where the mild complaints come in) there is often limited actual availability and the cost of shipping, especially for just a few plants, is exorbitant to Arizona (maybe anywhere for that matter). Like $33 on up for small order. They need to find a simple way to reduce the size of the transported plant someway. Having said all that, I ordered 5 plants in 2 shipments at the beginning of this year and all are doing great, though a couple did take a mild period to establish (in part, could be the plants). For those that complain about the shipping method herein, the only thing justified is the weight or the high pricing--the method is otherwise fantastic and any well experienced gardener like myself has an appreciation for that. Everything was carefully well packaged. I also love their website. Please find a way to reduce the size & shipping somewhat Las Palitas, as I want to order more ! :)
jbabin San Diego, CA (Zone 10a) (1 review) May 7, 2015
Rude and unprofessional. I have had two experiences with Las Pilitas. The first was about 10 years ago. I drove out to the Escondido location to buy some ceanothus plants that my garden designer had specified for my yard. This place is not exactly close or easy to find, and i live in North San Diego county. I needed 8 of the plants and I checked their web site to make sure they were in stock. Their web site said they had 30 that day. But when I got there, they had 3, and no, someone had not rushed in to buy 27 plants earlier that day. They were just too unscrupulous to update their web site to accurately reflect their current stock except maybe once every 6 months or so..The sales staff told me that they often mentioned this fact to the manager, but he felt that getting people out to the site was more important than being truthful so they deliberately showed more stock than they had, and that they could sell you something suitable once you were there, even if it wasn't what you wanted or drove out of your way to find.
I bought the three plants (if you can call them plants) they had. They were poorly rooted sticks about 6 inches long in a 1 gallon nursery can, and died the first season without ever being planted in the ground.
Having vowed never to return to the Escondido location, i was pleased to find out they started shipping a few years ago. I have been watching for several years now for Paeonia californica, the native California peony, to become available. They are always sold out online and usually show being sold out in both retail locations. Their web site says that there is a high demand for the plant and they have shipped it as far as Switzerland. So i emailed them to ask how I could get one - whether I could get on a waiting list or pre- order, and why couldn't I buy one of the 6 listed as available in the Santa Margarita location. Three days later I got a curt reply that they are never sell them mail order (despite the web site saying their worker bees are working on propagation) because they don't form a strong enough root ball to ship, and I would have to come into the SM nursery because they don't sell them in Escondido despite listing 10 as "in production" for Escondido. I replied that that was funny since their web site says they have shipped them to Europe. So what, do i need the right code word to get any service from these people or do they just not care?
It really is a shame because they are one of the few sources for CA native plants and in this drought, that's what we need to be replacing our lawns with. Their business should be booming but they are probably still limping along selling sticks stuck in a pot out of the same trailer on an obscure plot of rubble up in Escondido!
divingturtle Del Mar, CA (Zone 10a) (2 reviews) November 6, 2014
I live very near the Santa Margarita Las Pilitas nursery, and over the past 3 years have become what they call a "repeat offender" - buying more and more native plants to gradually restore my property to a more natural condition. Bert was totally amazing with his wealth of knowledge - and all who knew him miss him greatly. But daughter Penny is also quite knowledgeable, and has been very supportive of my efforts. They have an enormous variety of natives, and their website is an entire college education in botany! I plan to continue buying from them whenever I feel the need for more plants!
Posted on September 27, 2012, updated November 4, 2013
Here in the Pacific Northwest, it's often possible to grow plants that are native to the chaparral hillsides of CA (provided that our thick clay soil is sufficiently amended.) However, it's difficult to find local nurseries that carry these plants. So I decided to give Las Pilitas a shot.
I ordered a toyon and a golden currant subspecies that is native to temperate CA climates. They arrived in a small box, with bags tied around the root balls. I thought that this packaging was a little questionable (especially after I paid $33 for shipping and handling), but I can't argue with the results. Both shrubs were in good condition.
I also appreciate their planting instructions, though I think that they paint with too broad a brush at times (yes, you have to amend your natural soil in some cases). I had a question about their suggested watering technique and they responded to me in less than 10 minutes. Their web site is also very informative (and humorous at times).
Overall, I was pleased with Las Pilitas and would gladly do business with them again. On November 4th, 2013, MulchingMan added the following:
I've done a lot more business with Las Pilitas over the past year and they've become my favorite nursery. Their plants are reliably healthy and do well in my yard (even some of the species that are marginal here in the Pacific Northwest).
One important lesson I've learned: Follow their instructions verbatim, don't improvise. They know better than you. Also, take the time to read their web site, particularly the sections on symbiotic soil fungi/bacteria and plant communities. You will be a better native plant gardener for putting in the time to learn.
They're also very good about answering questions. Bert deserves a gold star for answering my many e-mails.
krissypoo Long Beach, CA (4 reviews) September 20, 2013
i ordered several plants and they arrived with rootballs in a bag and the plants packed horizontally like sardines. amazingly, only my san diego sunflower suffered (minor) damage (it was also pretty tall so no biggie). honestly, the plants didnt look spectacular after shipping but once planted really took off. only one in the order didnt make it but that was entirely my dog's fault. the wild strawberries had 2-3 runners each and after adjusting to their new environment look much healthier than alpine strawberries i bought elsewhere. although shipping was crazy expensive, i would order from them again based on the health of the plants. i'd rather pay more for vigorous plants that will flourish than cheaper plants that look good at first purchase then struggle after transplanting. their website is also super informative (esp for those not familiar with native plants) and pretty funny. i do wish they included more pictures of the entire mature plant instead of closeups of flowers so the buyer can make more informed decisions. id also love to see more edibles but maybe thats just me. ;)
I ordered a 'Ray Hartman' ceanothus from this nursery and was disappointed with the packing. I was unable to locate this plant anywhere else online, otherwise I would have purchased it elsewhere for a lower packing and shipping fee. The plant itself was healthy and the price was reasonable, but the packing was sloppy and the charge for it was excessive. This arrived as a bare-root plant and appeared to be simply thrown into a flimsy plastic bag with much of the top of the root ball exposed. The transit time from shipment to the arrival of this plant was three days and the soil was completely dried out. The charges for both packing and shipping totaled around $33, which I found to be outrageous. Because of the poor packaging of this plant and what I was charged for it, I will never order another plant from this nursery in the future.
wagneramy Santa Cruz, CA (Zone 9a) (9 reviews) February 9, 2011
I ordered from Las Pilitas on Sat and my plants arrived in great condition on Tues. The nursery was in contact with me giving me advice on how and where to plant some of the more difficult plants. They were all natives so required different treatment than garden plants. I was very pleased with this nursery and will order from them in the future. They were very helpful.
mrs_colla Marin, CA (Zone 9b) (29 reviews) August 16, 2007
I haven't ordered plants from them (yet), but I called them up with a cross pollination question. The lady was very helpful and informed me very well, and I haven't even bought from them!
That, to me, is a sign of a good nursery where people care about plants and not just money!
floria Athens, GA (Zone 8a) (24 reviews) May 3, 2007
I ordered several plants this spring. The people there (Penny in particular) were extremely helpful. The plants were sent and arrived very fast and in excellent shape. How well the plants will fare - that is my own problem - after all, I am trying ]to grow California native plants in Pennsylvania!
cammywc San Diego, CA (Zone 10a) (1 review) March 8, 2007
I live in san Diego and go to the Escondido nursery a lot. They are always extremely helpful and knowledgeable. If I follow their directions, my plants are happy and thrive. If I don't, the plants are toast! I've learned by experience to do as they tell me!
At first I was afraid to order for fear the plants would be crushed during delivery. But they have a clever way of packing the bagged rootballs like sardines in a box such that when I opened the 5 boxes after watching the UPS guy drop them upside down on the ground, all plants survived. I will be ordering again!
absinthium Spring Valley, CA (4 reviews) February 18, 2006
I go to the Escondido nursery at least once a year. The folks there are always very helpful. The plants are all mostly 1 gallon and being natives are small above the soil line. The roots, though, are usually perfect, filling the soil but not root bound. The display garden is developing nicely and is full a great ideas on how to use natives aesthetically. This year I bought several salvias, artemesias, penstemons and a buckwheat that may or may not like my particular climate. Very happy to have them in the county.
mary0114 Lodi, CA (Zone 9a) (8 reviews) February 17, 2006
I received several plants from this company, most of which looked like they were on their last legs. The plants arrived sloppily packaged. Only a few survived. Would not order from them again.
The Las Pilitas staff helped me with a school garden that is the envy of the campus! Their plants grow well in my yard too. The website is the best you can find, it is hard to get good info on natives so they provide a very valuable service!
KaperC No. San Diego Co., CA (Zone 10b) (11 reviews) February 25, 2005
We have purchased well over 100 plants from the Escondido site and can't recommend them too highly. The staff is very knowledgeable and willing to help. Do visit if you are in the San Diego area -- especially when the salvias are blooming, as the scents are amazing! On May 8th, 2005, kaperc added the following:
Visited Las Pilitas Escondido today wearing my DG shirt. Morgan and Val were very pleased with the comments and said thank you to everyone -- it meant a lot to them to hear their work is valued. As always, they were incredibly helpful and I came home with some good choices.
crystalspin Santa Ana, CA (Zone 9b) (1 review) March 21, 2004
Visited the company's Escondito site last spring (2003) after compiling a shopping list on the VERY complete and helpful website. Purchased some California native plants for my mostly xeric postage-stamp landscape. The proprietor was VERY helpful as well, with accurate advice even when advice was NOT to buy!!! Plants (even the ones that seemed small and 'doubtful') all did well in their first year.
pale_saint raleigh, NC (9 reviews) January 2, 2004
we have ordered 3 times from this company and can't be more pleased. they have very good xeriscape plants and california natives. we have lived in california and successfully grown penstemons and salvias from them in the central valley. we now live in south carolina and the salvias (pozo blue) and penstemon (margarita BOP),that we ordered in spring 2003, have grown wonderfully here, too. can't recommend them more.
mikejan Staten Island, NY (24 reviews) April 1, 2002
Though I have not yet received the plants I ordered I feel they deserve a +++ becuase of the information about soil and mychorrhizae on the website. Must reading for every gardener. E-mail gets answered.On April 28th, 2002, mikejan added the following:
Plants have been received and are in the ground. Ships via 3-day UPS so your plants arrive from the left coast in good shape. Ships gallon-sized plants which means good roots. There are pluses: California strawberry was actually 2 plants with many runners ready to spread. There was also a shrub seedling in the strawberries (which Bert told me about). The California rose also had a runner so it was like getting a 2-fer. Well worth the hefty shipping cost (you are warned in advance).On July 4th, 2002, mikejan added the following:
After 2 nasty heat spells the plants are doing well. They are growing new roots and this is good as they must be shocked in the change in climate and soil. If you want California natives in your garden and are willing to pay the premium this is the place.