Guest Post by Ginny Stibolt, the Transplanted Gardener
These days, with high food prices and concerns about healthful diets, many garden writers (including myself) have been encouraging folks to plant more vegetables. We say it’s not too difficult if you have a sunny location and good soil. If you don’t have good soil, you can buy some. If you don’t want to start seeds, there are lots of seedlings to purchase. So what’s my problem?
The other day I was at Home Depot and saw that the majority of the vegetable seedlings for sale there were Bonnie’s cool-weather crops. It’s too late to plant those crops here in Northern Florida.
On the other hand, Home Depot also had some Bonnie’s tomatoes for sale several weeks before the danger of hard frost would pass, which is late March here. So it's too early to plant them unless you know to cover them when a frost hits.
In the past, Home Depot has continued to offer tomatoes from Bonnie Plants throughout the hot summer months even though those tomato plants are doomed. Starting in July here, when the night-time lows are consistently above 70 degrees and most tomatoes stop setting fruit, Bonnie's and their dealers should stop selling the plants.
Curious, I looked at Bonnie’s website and here’s a quote on their “Find a Dealer” page:
Bonnie Plant Farm does not grow all varieties of plants in all states. In order to deliver the finest quality plants, we have to grow only the varieties that grow best in each of our 68 growing locations across the Unites States.
Yes, the Bonnie growers can easily grow new cabbage and broccoli seedlings right now in Florida, but they should ship those seedlings north, because it’s too late to plant them here. And what are the plant dealers thinking? Doesn’t anyone care what happens once the plants leave the store?
Experienced gardeners will bypass these inappropriate choices, but beginning gardeners will probably assume that if plants are for sale now that they are safe to plant and will produce good yields. They’ll be disappointed when their cabbage plants bolt before forming a head and when their new tomatoes are killed by a late frost. My fear is that many new gardeners will give up on growing vegetables because they’ve wasted money, time and effort trying to grow plants in the wrong season. I blame Bonnie Plants and their resellers for this result because of their regionally inappropriate and unseasonable offerings.
There are 12 Bonnie resellers within 15 miles of my zip code and probably this density is true in much of the country. I worry about the size of this operation and their lack of regionally appropriate plant selections. Oh yes, and as Susan Harris reminded me, it's Bonnie Plants that was blamed for a huge infestation of late blight in last year’s tomato crop. Isn’t it time that we hold Bonnie's feet to the fire?? We should demand that they sell the right plant in the right place and at the right time.
To give Bonnie's some credit, though. I love their third grade cabbage program. What a wonderful way to get kids interested in growing vegetables. But… I hope they are not sending cabbage plants to Florida schools right now.
Home Depot was also selling nandina and Mexican petunia plants, which are on Florida’s Category I invasive plants list. I asked the sales clerks about the invasive plants and they promised they’d tell the manager. Maybe they will, but I won’t hold my breath. In the past, I’ve objected to their plant selection, but nothing has changed. When they do offer natives, I buy them even if my need is marginal. I know the dollar speaks. But Home Depot’s selling invasives is a rant for another day.
Ginny Stibolt, the Transplanted Gardener, gardens in Jacksonville, Florida.