“How Could It Be My Fault?”

     I love my work! One of the things I sometimes do on my day off is visit other Independent Garden Centers. Always trying to be better at my craft, I gain perspective, get inspired, sometimes steal ideas and look and listen at what others do in my industry. I marvel at how smaller garden centers utilize their space and scratch my head at how larger garden centers, sometimes, waste theirs. This past April, I had a rare Sunday off and visited a garden center in north Jersey. Listening intently, to a customer’s complaint, about how a plant they purchased had perished, they put the blame solely on the merchant. The customer said, “how could it be my fault?” The garden center’s representative did their absolute best to address the complaint, understanding the customer’s frustration and trying to offer solutions, but the customer would not have any of it. Everyone in retail has been in this situation, at one time or another, and it’s never easy. However, as an outsider looking in, I can tell you with absolute confidence that this garden center represents the “green industry” quite well. Quality plant material, that is well maintained, and knowledgeable employees, this is a destination garden center for sure. And while this particular incident seemed to fall on “deaf ears,” I can tell you this… a plant purchased, at full retail, had to have had some net worth to begin with. That is to say, the customer thought well enough of it to buy it based on its visual merits. So, to answer the question, “how could it be their fault” let me point out a few possibilities.

     Perhaps it was all the rain last year, a wet winter and extremely wet spring again this year that has many plants drowning? Nearly every other day, last year, was met with rain and New Jersey set a record with precipitation averaging over 64 inches. Many people believe that desiccation, the removal of moisture from something, was the culprit this winter. However, it really has more to do with a lack of oxygen in the soil and many plants succumbing to that.

     Perhaps the homeowner or their landscaper wasn’t aware of what a root flare is? The root flare is the area around the base of the trunk where support roots emerge. Burying a tree or shrub too deep or elevating it like a volcano are wrong on both counts and sure to put a plant out of its misery far before its time.

     Perhaps there was too much mulch around the collar of the tree and the irrigation system was never adjusted? Running the irrigation system, every day for 30 minutes, would be just as bad as watering a tree once every couple of weeks.

     Perhaps their landscaper was weed-whacking the grass around their plant and stripped the bark off the new plant? Having a properly mulched area around your plant material not only regulates and helps control moisture, it serves as a weed control too.

     Perhaps the customer didn’t ask any questions and sited the plant improperly? Too much sun or too much shade, not wet site tolerant or capable of handling arid conditions? Maybe the plant was a broadleaf evergreen and didn’t want to be on the west side of the property, in harm’s way, facing desiccating winds in the winter? Or maybe what the customer bought was an annual, not a perennial, deciduous shrub or broadleaf evergreen capable of surviving our climate zone?

     Perhaps the customer bought a tree or shrub and placed it in the back of a truck, not tarped and protected from wind, and drove home over 30 miles an hour and wind burned the plant?

     Perhaps the customer had their new plant in a container over the winter and the plant dried out as it was not below the soil line where there would be a consistent temperature?

     Perhaps there were no soil amendments added and the size of the hole was not appropriate for their new plant?

     Perhaps the customer had a deer problem and the deer simply ate the plant? Or maybe, because it was a mild winter, chipmunks bedded down for the winter and chewed the roots of the plant?

     There are many reasons why a plant may not perform as well as expected. In the end, gardening is not a spectator sport. Gardening demands attention, discipline and participation. Monitoring a plant’s needs is not unlike the attention you pay to your children. You get what you put into it and simply saying “how could it be my fault” deflects the very essence of what gardening is all about. Gardening is life and tending to yours only helps ensure an outcome that will meet your expectations.