A few years ago I had to visit a big box store and noticed racks of plants wilting in the sun, with no hose in sight. I pointed this out to the first store employee I saw walking by and the response was “I don’t have time right now. I’ll get to it when I can.” The tag the person wore said “manager.” If watering takes such a low priority, just imagine what insect and disease protection must be like.
For the customer, repeated wilting means there is a very good chance that plants have been subjected to stresses that severely weaken them. The effects of this kind of stress, depending on the plant, may not become apparent until a few weeks later, or even until the following season.
When I was young I worked at a nursery where we grew ten thousand mums each year. The number one priority was watering. It didn’t matter what else needed to be done; you didn’t let plants wilt-ever. Standing out in the hot sun watering ten thousand mums was unpleasant, but the plants came first and your needs second, and we all understood that.
A while ago I visited Windsock gardens in Swanzey and asked about a particular variety of impatiens. Sarah, the owner, wrote down my request and said she wouldn’t have them until next year because she grew them from seed. Rather than being disappointed, I was happy to hear it. Now this, I thought, is a real nursery. Someone who raises thousands of plants from seed cares about their plants, and you won’t ever see them wilting.
“Caveat emptor” is Latin for “let the buyer beware,” and that’s what buyers should do when buying plants from box or grocery stores. Unless you get them right off the truck it’s a roll of the dice, and buying dozens of shrubs for a hedge, for example, could be a significant gamble.
Would you try to buy lumber or groceries at a plant nursery? If not, then why would you buy plants at a lumber yard or a grocery store? Do yourself a favor and shop at a reputable nursery, where their only concern is the plants they care for. You might pay a few cents more, but you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your plants are healthy, hardy in your area, and well cared for.
One final word: Please don’t blame store employees for their lack of knowledge. It’s up to the owner to make sure employees know how to care for plants before putting them in charge of the garden center.