Last Sunday, we stopped at a local market to pick up vegetables for dinner. It was a rainy warmish day, with temps in the mid-to-high 50s.
As we were entering the store, I noticed some beautiful hanging baskets just outside the doors. There were mainly pansies and petunias, including some unusual duo-colored double petunia varieties. (I am a sucker for these.) There were also some small containers of impatiens.
I remarked to a staffer inside the store that it was a bit early to have petunias outdoors. She laughed, and remarked on the balmy temps. It was clearly no use continuing the conversation; I could see that she thought – perhaps with justification – that was just being a cranky customer.
As I write this two days later, the morning temp is 39 degrees with a 43 daytime high expected.
I wonder where those petunias are now.
I also wonder who bought those hanging baskets and installed them outside on their porches or patios, fully expecting them to keep providing color for the rest of the season.
Except that the season hasn’t really begun here – certainly not the season of planting annuals outdoors. Indeed, I don’t even like planting perennials at this time; the cold soil and early morning frosts are not welcoming to these plants so early in their pampered lives.
People get starved for living brightness. They want spring to fulfill its deceptive promise. I can’t blame them for buying these baskets.
I do blame the store for offering plants that may very well die within days of purchase. Someone should have known better.
Spring can get crazy here in the Northeast/upper Midwest. We had some 80-degree days in mid-April, but now the weather is back to its seasonable rainy chilliness. I would not dream of planting or hanging any annuals outside until at least May 20. I often wait a bit longer than that. My mail order annuals (some shown at top) always come too soon; I am hoping I can keep them going long enough.
Thank goodness for pansies, as tough as they are adorable.
No store, especially one that does not specialize in plants, should be offering annuals that are native to equatorial latitudes at this time of year in Buffalo. Even so, some area nurseries that do know better have sold mixed containers that aren’t weather-appropriate. I’ve seen the complaints and sad pictures on social media.
All I can hope is that these businesses receive enough bitter complaints that they put a little more thought into their offerings next spring.
I’ve been having a difficult time resisting those displays of summer annuals calling to me from outside every market I’ve visited in the last few weeks. Even striped petunias start looking good after 5 months of winter. Here in zone 5B there’s more than an even chance that we’ll have at least one hard frost before Memorial Day.
Still, I’m terrified my favorite nursery will run out of bedding plants by the time I’m ready to commit.
This post hits the spot!! Select seeds sent my plants here to my — at that time frozen — zone 4 two or three weeks ago. I am struggling to keep them going until I can plant them out. I would think they would check local conditions before shipping. Annoyed.
Haha–did you recognize my Select Seeds plants in the picture?
LOL. No, but only because I ordered different ones! Haha.
I visited my two favorite local nurseries recently and their greenhouses were full of wonderful plants. The tomato plants I knew to keep inside for now, but I forgot about the sweet potato vines – they looked pretty sad when I rescued them. The thing is, if you don’t buy early, sometimes you don’t buy at all, or you end up the geraniums you don’t want. If you go when the weather is safe, the plants are all picked over.
I bought a beautiful fern from Home Depot & an equally gorgeous Gerbera Daisy from Wegmans. My soul needed them. I knew they would reside in my 50° attached garage until the outdoor temps matched but at least I can water & gaze at them. I hope others who bought them did the same.
You understand, I hope, that the planning that goes in to scheduling greenhouse production is likely based on predicted or anticipated weather patterns. When the crop of petunia baskets is ready to ship it MUST go to make room for the next crop. Retailers have commitments to growers that they must honor.
Gardening is a risky endeavor, so buy at your own risk. Thanks for looking out for the rest of us, though.
I worked at a local nursery for way for many, many years. Our average last frost is around St. Patrick’s Day. There were always people coming in looking for tomatoes in February. We’d explain to them it’s way too early. They didn’t care. Some said they had greenhouses, and would keep them in there until time to put them out. Others, most of them, said oh well, I’ll just buy more if a freeze happens. What can I say? More money for the nurseries if people are willing to waste their money.
As a side note to your blog, a pet peeve of mine is nurseries and big-box-stores offering plants that will not thrive in the local area. I’ve seen blueberries for sale here in north Texas where our soil Ph is around 8. Fruit trees are offered with no regard to chilling times. Also plants that prefer cool summers, although I’m seeing less of that these days.
By the way, petunias often make it through the winter here in north Texas, even though we get temps down to 20 or less at times. They may go dormant, but bounce right back. They can easily take a light frost. They’re mostly offered as an early spring (Feb-March) or fall plant here, as they don’t survive our summers. Pansies, of course, are planted in the fall for winter color and dug up in the spring to make room for summer color.
Such different worlds within one continent!
as a former retail garden center owner for over 30 years this is a conversation that comes up every year. For years we resisted selling certain crops too early knowing that they would suffer or even die once they went home. We used to pride ourselves on selling “success” by “protecting” our customers from poor decisions. Some would say thank you but most just went somewhere else to purchase them. Over the years we have succumbed to putting some crops out earlier than we would like to but with a small sign that says “protect from frost”. Even in the pacific northwest we get customers looking for peppers and tomatoes in March when they really should be waiting until the soils warm up. Old timers will tell you they always waited until Memorial Day to plant their warm season crops. In the end, if we don’t offer these crops customers will often go elsewhere. All we can do is to try to educate them on how to manage their early purchases. As for basil, anyone buying it this early might just as well take it home and eat it!
Unfortunately, the big box stores have trained customers to purchase plants impulsively since they offer a “1-year guarantee for trees, shrubs, and perennials” and a “90-day guarantee for all other plants.” They pimp plants based with the fallback of absurd warranties. These ridiculous warranties have basically trained idiots to purchase the wrong type of plant for the wrong location, at the wrong time of year, and to neglect its basic needs (i.e. water), because of an asinine warranty. Regretfully, I worked temporarily at one of the box stores in the mid-90s and watched cart after cart of dead arborvitae being brought back to the returns desk because the customer foolishly assumed that the plants were going to take care of themselves, and that rain was a sufficient form of irrigation.
Totally agree with this rant. Fortunately, one of our favorite local nursery-greenhouse retailers, Michael Brothers in Russelton, PA allows customers to shop for annual flowers, herbs, and veggies March-April and will hold them (prepaid) in their greenhouses until mid-May, which is the last average frost date here in zone 6b western PA. It’s 15 miles from our home but well worth the drive. As an added bonus, they grow the unusual annuals seen in the photo of Ms. Licata’s mail order box.
Pittsburgh is only a 3.5 hour drive from Buffalo so perhaps Elizabeth should consider a drive south on I-90/I-79 to visit us next spring? (Many Pittsburgh gardeners make the trek north to enjoy the Buffalo Garden Walk each July)
I will consider on my next trip to Pittsburgh! Please do stop by and visit me during Garden Walk, if you come up for it. I’m on the map.
Every. Year. To my mind, clear signage is a decent compromise between nurseries who need color on their racks and spring-fevered customers who have been trained by big boxes to seek it out. – MW
go for perennials. a very reputable company I order from has this to say “Perennials tolerate frost and freezing very well and are best planted at least 4-6 weeks ahead of your frost date” so according to this company, which I has wonderful packing and shipping and healthy plants, just put off buying those annuals–some of which appear to be forced to bloom vigorously for mothers day, then quit. I no longer buy those
My local nursery is wonderful. They have plants ready BUT they post signs all over the store about not putting plants out too early, hardening off young plants AND they send an e-mail if there’s a frost warning for the area. My area is always 4-5 degrees colder than the forecast, so I heed those warnings religiously. Still, we had a freeze (27 degrees) last week and lots got zapped but not my seedlings. Yo-yo weather. It’s Spring.