Paul and Nila Dowlearn-Owners of Wichita Valley Nursery. Paul’s recent books, “The Lazy Man’s Garden” and “Touch the Earth” are available at the Nursery, 5314 S.W. Pkwy, Wichita Fall, Texas.

Plant selection is a very big deal. Perhaps the most important thing. We grow most of the plants we sell. We do not use lightweight potting soils or herbicides/pesticides in the nursery. We do treat fire ants with biosafe controls. Our stock is kept outdoors all year long. We do water nursery stock. We also collect rainwater and use it as much as possible. We preach a lot. We also practice what we preach so our public displays out on Southwest Parkway are a fine example of xeriscape (dry landscape). It is NOT all cactus and gravel although there are some cacti out there along with some decorative stone. Where you shop does make a difference.

So, here it is October and we should be selling lots of plants. The astute gardeners are coming in, but the general public is not. Our landscape designs and installations are keeping us afloat. Fall planting is gaining popularity but still lags way behind spring sales. The general public rarely reads this gardening column, but you do. Please help us out. We need to spread the word.

Here is a simple test that anyone can do. Buy a woody shrub of some kind and plant it now. Notice you will not have to water so much as we cool down. Plant another shrub of the same kind in April when the Megamart advertising is going full blast. By July you should be able to tell which one was fall planted. By the end of summer, you will be seeing the difference for sure.

The late J.B. Holt once told me, “Anybody can sell plants during spring. The trick is getting through the lean days of summer.” Although the summer is the absolute best season for lawn grasses, the Megamarts quit ordering pallets of sod when it gets hot. So, the “everything in spring” myth is affirmed because grass stacked on pallets surrounded by asphalt will turn yellow in two days, brown in three or four days. No profit in that…

The problem here is that the guys who can afford constant ads on TV and newspapers have the attention of the general public. The Megamarts know that and their marketing strategies show it. In my career I have seen dozens of nice “mom and pop” nurseries go belly up because they can’t compete. You simply can’t make enough in 3 or 4 months to last through the year.

I recall a pair of women who decided they could make a living by just selling bedding plants. They did fine during spring. I knew these two and did some business with them. They were quite serious and worked hard but in less than two years they had to call it quits.

Please don’t misunderstand that I am totally against big franchises. I buy a fair amount of building supplies as landscaping does include what we call “hardscaping.” We do patios, pathways, retaining walls, shade structures, and statuary every year. I shop all the local lumber yards and I am very happy they are in business. I also hope they will remain in business, so they are there when I need them. I see other landscape contractors when I am shopping those lumber yards. Most of them don’t buy plants from their garden centers either. I just don’t agree with their plant selections and marketing strategies. Otherwise I’m good.

When it comes down to it, we (including all landscapers) offer products and services the Megamarts do not. You can buy their plants, but you will install it yourself or call one of us to help you. Any good local family owned nursery will have a much better plant selection and knowledgeable staff to help you with problems and answer questions. The local folks will be priced competitively as well. So, it really isn’t the competition that hurts us. It is in fact the misinformation.

This past week I posted a “self help” plant tag I pulled from a Megamart pot someone brought us to be recycled. There were four points stated for growing successfully. All four were kinda wrong or totally wrong. A few of my Facebook friends got upset about this. Well… They can shop where they please, but I was among the first to begin selling the native Gregg’s salvias near thirty years ago. Since then it has become one of the more popular shrubs we sell. You are seeing this plant all over Texoma. Being a native it has no problem with weather, local insects, or disease, plus it blooms righteous in spring, fall, and even sporadically through summer. The tag said blooms midfall to spring (which implies winter(?) and stated it was only cold hardy to 32 degrees(?)… Yeeeesh!

My point is that if you are going to inform the public, you should do your best to make sure the info is correct… Or at least close to it. I think we deserve as much don’t you?

I do know that Megamarts will be breaking out the chrysanthemums and pansies this month. What will their ads say about trees, shrubs, perennials, and cool season veggies? For certain, they could even be selling some sod through the end of the month. We “mom and pop” nurseries will be selling all of these plus doing the installations and design work including plant ID’s and diagnostics. Reckon the person running the Megagardencenter will drop by and have a look at your landscape one day? There is more to it than pretty plants and cheap prices. Come see us…

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