Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Home Depot: Godsend or Evil?

In my opinion, Home Depot offers us a dilemma of cheap products sold with a caveat emptor attitude. Here’s some of the Good, the Bad and the Nonexistent:

The Good

I started buying primroses at Home Depot in February, keeping about 3 pots at a time in my dining room window for as long as they bloomed. At $1.49 each for 4” pots, and sometimes $0.99 for slightly older stock, I figured that at worst I was still getting flowers cheaper than the doomed ones from florists. Most of the plants had no label, but the odd pot would have a plastic marker saying “Primula acaulis Danova Mix.” Probably most or all were of this type, although that’s hard to prove with a variable seed-sown strain, and a few were more of the ‘candlestick’ type in shape. As each plant’s blooms got ratty I moved it to my cellar under lights. I put 8 plants out on April 22, most in a wooded strip above the aqueduct path that will be mostly shaded once leaf-out is largely complete at the end of May. Seven of the plants still have fairly healthy looking foliage, and 2 are still blooming, which is pretty impressive considering the plants were forced into growth and bloom well before their natural period in this climate.

The Bad

The glossy boxes of Peonies and Phlox, on sale this March, showed a color photo of what to expect, but provided essentially no information about the plants, except for estimated heights, the fact that the peonies were double and might need staking, and that the peonies and phlox were each in assorted colors (i.e., nothing on cultivar or even species). A Google search also yielded nothing on these “Growing Colors” products. But at 4 peonies for $9.96, or 8 phlox for the same price, I figured if even one of each survived and proved worth keeping, I was at least breaking even compared to buying potted growing plants. I know that peonies are best planted in fall, but some sources I checked said that planting was also acceptable in the spring as soon as the soil could be worked – rather vague, I know. (The box said to plant the peonies after the ground warms to 50 degrees F.) I planted all of both species on April 22, about an inch deep, watering them in well, and conditions have been mild and moist since then. The peony buds had elongated to 3” spears, so I left 2” above ground, so the crown and base of the buds was an inch or two deep. Perhaps it’s too early to tell, but 25 days later I haven’t seen any growth from any of the phlox or peonies. Other people I know report losing bare-root plants as often as not, but 0 for 12 is ridiculous. Also, it wouldn’t cost them anything to have some more information on varieties or ancestries on the glossy box and whether to bury all of the elongated growing points, and it wouldn’t cost them much to have something on the web from the mysterious “Glowing Colors” firm which the package lists only as a P.O. Box in Lakewood, New Jersey.

The Nonexistent

While Home Depot has a large selection of deadly pesticides and herbicides, they have not offered any of the organic pre-emergent herbicides made from corn gluten. The Home Depot employee I asked had heard about such products, and had no answer for why they didn’t carry them. So I got it at my local garden center, Windy-Lo Nursery (Natick, MA). The product seemed to work. At any rate, the lawn improved a lot where I spread it (a sunny area where annual grasses had dominated in the lawn’s newly seeded first year), although I can’t prove it wouldn’t have otherwise. Tests I’ve seen on the web indicate an 80% to 90% reduction in lawn weeds, a 10% Nitrogen component, and as one would expect for corn gluten, complete safety even for food plants. I’m no purist about being organic, but why spread deadly chemicals all over a lawn if you don’t have to? (Maybe it’s because I just don’t care all that much about lawn perfection, because I will spray poisons to get rid of poison ivy, or pests in my perennials, but I think the difference to me is that the lawn is large and exactly where my kids are playing.)


I’ll continue to shop at Home Depot for hardware, and I can’t resist checking out their plants whenever I go, but I’ll do far more of my horticultural shopping at:

Windy-Lo Nursery (the closest to me, and a lot larger than it looks from the street)

The Saturday farmers’ market on the Natick Common (fresh, often field-grown plants)

One-time events at nonprofits like schools or the Mass. Horticultural Society in Wellesley (I find that plants in a well-managed one-time sale are timed right, not underdeveloped and not pot-bound)

Russell’s Garden Center (more comprehensive selection)

In the parking lot of the Building 19 on routes 9 and 27. (I never would have expected lumpen-retailer Building 19 to have decent plants, but then one of my clients told me that it was a family business not really part of Building 19, and I checked it out regularly last year. Their product is great, at least when it first comes in, and none of the bargains have been disappointments.)


Ki said...

Once in a great while we've found some interesting plants at Home Depot and Lowe's but most of the offerings are run of the mill. A few weeks ago HD had some named cultivars of Japanese maples. We bought a 'Seiryu' an upright dissectum about 6 feet tall for $99-a real bargain. And last year I found a golden chaintree $29 7 feet tall and Japanese tree lilac for $20. We usually go to our local discount nursery for more interesting plants like a dawn redwood or "Royal Burgundy" cherry.

BTW, great start to your blog. Will check back when time permits. Haven't had much time lately to write my own blog! Ki.

Anonymous said...

Re Home Depot. It's true that they occasionally have really interesting plants, if you keep your eyes open. (I once found a Lewisia there, for example.) But I generally avoid buying plants from them for two reasons. One, you can't really be sure how they've been treated while they're being transported and then sitting around in the sales area. I'm sure many of the plants get greatly stressed due to lack of watering, etc. Second, I try to support my local smaller garden centers (like your Windy-Lo) because they are far more responsive to the needs of their clientelle (as you point out with being unable to get certain products at Home Depot.) My nightmare is that these big chains will put all the smaller operations out of business (not just in the nursery/gardening sector, but in every other area), and then we'll be stuck with using only those products that they choose to stock.

In regard to the corn gluten pre-emergent product. I know that it's been used at Garden in the Woods for the past two years. Last year it was used in one small area, and the results were good, so now it's being used elsewhere in the garden. The one thing I don't like about it is the smell - it is really obnoxious and hasn't gone away yet (since it was applied in late April). In the mulched areas, it doesn't smell so much since the mulch went on over it and seems to be suppressing the smell. But in the unmulched Western garden, the stench has been unmistakable most days. Still, it's worth trying to see if it works for you. It may not bother you as much as it bothers me.

Anonymous said...

I had a friend whose husband was employed by the Tampa,FL Home Depot. She died suddenly and he was fired for taking time off to make her funeral arrangements.. WTF?