Why Garden Centers Sell Tender Plants So Early
It doesn't mean they're stupid – not all of them anyway
A week or so ago, our local weather forecast included frost warnings for the next three nights, so I paid a visit to a favorite garden center to check things out. As an uber-knowledgeable horticulturist and source of wisdom and comfort to millions, I was appalled at what I saw. Hundreds of tropical and semi-tropical plants with little or no tolerance to cold sat out on the lot, waiting to explode as ice expanded inside them.
Suddenly, I had a flashback to one of the world's stupidest movies, "The Day After Tomorrow" – you know, the one extolled by Al Gore for its powerful message about climate change causing a hurricane of ultra-frigid air to hurtle south from the North Atlantic and strike the U.S., flash-freezing people in mid-sentence. We all know real hurricanes form over warm water and spin counter-clockwise instead of the direction shown (details, details), but the good news was that this storm also flash-froze Al in mid-sentence.
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Nursery tables stuffed with porch ferns (‘Macho,' ‘Kimberly Queen,' Boston), mandevilla, Chinese hibiscus, tibouchina, palms, bromeliads, and garden annuals stood before me. Few people were buying; I guess they'd seen the forecast. What was the garden center owner thinking? Was he/she pondering professional suicide? I was so distraught, I had to drive straight home for a cocktail to help me decompress.
Seeking guidance, I posed the questions above to our modern-day Oracle, aka Facebook. There, Kris Blevons of Oak Street Garden Shop in Mountain Brook, Alabama set me straight. Yes, she said, garden centers often receive shipments of tender plants weeks before the frost-free date, but it's not because they're hoping frost will kill them after you buy, and you'll have to come back for more (at least, not the good places). Rather, they're forced to order early because that's when the big growers in south Florida and elsewhere have plants ready and want to ship. They need to ship then, so they can start on a second crop for later in the season. If garden centers wait, they miss out on the biggest and prettiest plants and may not get a second shipment at all.
This is a pain for garden centers, because it means a lot of tender plants will basically be held for weeks in their greenhouses and few will be sold.
The moral of this story is that we shouldn't be so quick to judge – except in the case of "The Day After Tomorrow." That is truly one idiotic flick.