Log into any houseplant group these days and you’ll find brag after brag about how someone scored a rare specimen at Home Depot or Lowe’s. These groups are also flooded with photos of poor, dying plants found languishing in big box greenhouses, accompanied by pleas for group members to come rescue them. Do these people know how their posts can harm locally owned greenhouses, plant stores, and nurseries? Doubtful.
First off, it’s important to note that these stores do not pay for any of the plants that they carry; therefore, they are not losing any money if these plants don’t sell. They receive plants on consignment from growers with whom they have special arrangements. If plants die, become infested, or have other issues, they can be thrown out at no cost. This is not the case with independently owned greenhouses and nurseries, who have to buy stock or grow it themselves. Every lost plant costs the business.
For big box stores, plants are a loss leader, offered to attract customers. They can offer cheap plants, because they’re getting their profits from higher ticket items. People may enter through the greenhouse, but they usually wander into the hardware aisles.
Big box stores also try to destabilize small businesses by monopolizing the supply chain. Since Lowe’s and Home Depot can purchase at an infinitely larger volume than independently owned businesses, suppliers prioritize getting product to them. When someone comes to a local greenhouse, plant store, or nursery asking for merchandise that hasn’t come in yet, that operation may lose a customer when the big box comes to the rescue.
The favoritism suppliers have for larger volume doesn’t end there. A couple years ago, a black Zamioculcas zamiifolia (shown above) entered the market. The main grower that supplies these plants to big box stores registered the plant as ZZ Raven. Not only were these plants available exclusively to big box stores, if any independent retailer or individual tried selling this plant, they could be met with litigation.
Home Depot was barely a blip on the radar in 1990, but it now dominates the hardware market: more than 5000 independent hardware stores have shuttered their doors between 1990 and 2007, according to Stacy Mitchell’s 2007 expose Big Box Swindle. It’d be interesting to see the numbers on independently owned greenhouses and nurseries; it’s also likely that many more small stores have closed since 2007. Independent retailers bank at local banks, often carry goods produced locally, advertise locally, and donate to local causes. The money spent at local independent retailers stays in the local economy. This is not the case with big box stores.
So with Black Friday and Small Business Saturday almost upon us, please shop at your independently owned greenhouses, nurseries, and plant stores. When shopping at these beautiful places, you’re not only getting healthier plants, you’re getting passion, knowledge, and a healthier local economy.
Angle Acres photos courtesy of owner and head grower Judy.
Thanks for this imoortant post. I’m sharing it with garden friends.
I agree completely. I patronize a small mom & pop nursery in Louisiana, and their plants are always high quality. I also purchase plants from a small nursery one town over, at the local Master Gardener plant sale and at an area university that sells lots of natives. Our town’s Big Box store carries mostly nice looking plants, but (for example) the peach trees they get aren’t the right ones for our area. Plus, they sell plants considered invasive in our part of the US. You also don’t know whether or not Big Box plants contain neonicotinoids, I do, however, sometimes make a mercy-purchase at the BB store because it hurts my heart to see their discounted dying plants that only need a bit of water to revive. In short, there are too many good reasons not to buy locally.
Yeah there was the whole neonicotinoids issue and I think after the backlash they received from it they have since backed off but I wouldn’t be surprised if they still did. That’s terrible they sell invasives! Our local department of agricultute is pretty good about inspecting places and checking for invasives.
I had no idea the box stores did not pay for their plants. That seems a very unfair business practice and should be made illegal. Box stores turn me off anyway in general but, going to an independent nursery with cool healthy plants is always a lot of fun.
This was told to me by my Department of Agricultute. I later found out from reading books that it’s often not just plants and that a lot of their stock is on consignment. Additionally they get tax breaks and subsidies. It’s really stacked against small businesses
Totally agree, great rant, vote with your dollars and feet, don’t buy from big box stores, avoid Amazon, use them for research and reviews then try and buy local. When we do buy online we request they don’t ship Amazon, use USPS.
Etsy is a good option for gifts, not local to you but to is to someone, small biz sellers.
One trick we found during this covid mess is FaceTime shopping. This works great for local nursery and retail even hardware, we do it with our local liquor store, looking or a bottle of wined also you can introduce them to a new way to sell.
Got a fave shop, call and ask if they, or someone who works there can. They walk around show what they have, give them card info and arrange to pick it up at the door or trunk drop.
Yes in all accounts! And yes to the FaceTime shopping. At my shop we offered “Virtual Shopping” and consults through zoom.
Everything I read about gardening as well as politics makes me say “Well it ain’t necessarily so.” I really want verification. I do go out of my way to support local nurseries…they deserve that support for their effort and accumulated knowledge. I do however want to know where Johanna got her information regarding big box stores such as Home Depot. Where did the information come from regarding the tossing of unsold plants…or that plants are: a loss leader. I interviewed for the local Home Depot on Niagara Falls Blvd in Amherst and learned that their plants come from one nursery…not local to-be sure. He laughed when I asked about lost leader
plants and said they-do their best to take of them so they don’t loose money.i know this is only
And why woulda nurserybe faced with litigation for selling that ZZ plant.
Also why would an . Independent nursery
Please explain about the statement made aboutbthe ZZ plant…why would a nursery
Hi Carol. The information about Home Depot and Lowe’s came from the Department of Agriculture. When my nursery was getting inspected, Big Box Stores came up and she said they do not pay for their plants and that is why they often are a last priority for them to unbox, don’t care that they look poorly.
Having worked at a corporate store in the past (not a hardware store) I was privy to what happened to stock that was unsellable – even if it was stock that could be used or donated it had to be destroyed and thrown out. Having accompanied folks dumpster diving for a story, I’ve also witnessed perfectly good items spray painted, slashed, and destroyed by the store so no one could take it.
The black raven is registered – that is ® – and was not allowed to be sold by anyone other than the grower who grew these for big box stores. Someone else has the patent on this plant, but they bought the rights to it to be the exclusive seller. I believe that the registration requirements have since been lifted as I’ve seen other places stock them. Of course this is after the market was flooded. I managed a couple plant buy sell groups, both national and local, in which some people tried to sell ravens. I reached out to the head grower of the big box store supplier and asked specifics in regards to whether anyone could sell them. And he confirmed that at that time (2yrs ago) that only they were able to sell it.
Having worked at a local nursery for over 20 years, I appreciate your post. Everything you said is true. The nursery I worked at only bought plants from local growers, and had a much better selection than any big box store could dream of. We also had knowledgeable people to help with customers’ questions. We even answered questions when people called us from the big box stores to ask how to take care of the plants they just purchased or were thinking of purchasing there!
All that being said, I do admit I’m guilty as charged, though, as one that has taken advantage of the massively discounted plants on the sales racks at the big box stores. It’s hard to resist that healthy 2 gallon ponytail plant for 75% off just because they’d had it for 2 months and want to make room for something else. Normally, though, I do make a point to shop at local businesses, especially nurseries. I’m lucky in that there a plenty around where I live. Many places, mostly small towns, only have the big box stores at which to shop, unfortunately. Which makes your point!
I worked at Home Depot in my area (OR) and it gets its plants from a nursery in WA. Not far. Same with my Walmart plants. A married couple brought them down a couple times a week to Hime Depot. Perennials are guaranteed for a year. Sure, I also buy from local nurseries, which have more variety, but the plants have never been lower quality from big box stores. Even end of season clearance.