Spring has FINALLY arrived and even the most reluctant homeowner will head out to buy a few geraniums or fresh basil for their garden. “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” has become a clarion call for farmers. Your local plant growers warrant similar support- with good reason. Growing plants is labor intensive and requires skill- and most local growers aren’t doing it for big money. It is their passion. The choices at big-box stores pale in comparison to what your local nursery offers and their wisdom is indispensable for choosing plants that will thrive once you get them home. Why go local before you head to a big-box store? Where does a plant obsessed Master Gardener go for plants?……
- The selection of plants at big-box stores is skewed to those easy to propagate, cheap to source in quantity and shippable from long distances with little plant loss. That mind-set means you can get a crappy Bradford pear prone to ice damage, a mis-marked rhododendron or a tomato plant in late April on the cheap. A local nursery owner might not even stock Bradford pear (thank you Best Feeds!), will know that the rhodie they’re selling is purple not pink, and would caution you that soil temperatures aren’t warm enough for tomatoes until late May.
- Local nurseries can be tuned into the zeitgeist of their horticultural community. They may have plants that are native and perfect for pollinators and VERY hard to source. Thank you Quality Gardens.
- If you ask for a plant you have a chance that the nursery will order it in for you. Try that at the big box- where one size fits all. Thank you Dan from Michael Brothers Nursery. I could soak in his knowledge for days and he’s never steered me wrong.
- If you live in deer infested areas many local nurseries sell plants that they’ve installed in local gardens and have thrived i.e. they know the palate of the local herd. Thank-you LMS Greenhouse and Nursery. (Sad post-script- I just learned they are closing because they can’t get anyone to work the hard labor of garden maintenance. The H2B Visa program has fizzled away).
- When you walk into a greenhouse whose owner has lovingly selected each and every cultivar of plant, grown them from seed into nice healthy specimens, carefully placed them in a greenhouse and watered, fertilized, cut-back and tended them like their own children, you’ll be planting with the very best head start. Compare that to the rack upon rack of hastily potted annuals shipped to the box store and meant for purchase within 5 minutes or the odds of watering or liberation from their stacked confines can be days or weeks. Pisarcik Greenhouse, pictured above has some of the healthiest, stockiest young plants and one of the most neatly organized greenhouses I’ve ever seen.
- Sometimes you’ll read about new plants and won’t be able to find them. One of Pittsburgh’s rock-star nurseries is Brenckle’s Greenhouse. They always have the latest offerings from growers and the younger generation has taken up the mantle of their parents. Their selection is always amazing- if you read about a flower in a magazine you’ll find it at Brenckle’s.
- Every nursery I’ve mentioned above has staff that knows their plants. For a novice gardener, that expertise is indispensable. We’ve got to support them or they’ll be gone. Our only plant choices will be that suck-y Bradford pear, invasive barberries and flats with barely rooted baby annuals. We can’t let that happen.