I don’t think enough has been written on procuring plants for any garden, let alone a straw bale garden. This article give a few tips on buying plants to help you get off to a great start with your new straw bale garden. This post is part of a series on straw bale gardening. It is following Joel Karsten’s book, Straw Bale Gardening.
I grew up as a gardener, and have decades of experience with buying plants. I also have an indoor garden, which can be very sensitive to bugs, disease, and other problems. I learned to be pretty finicky about where I get my plants and I want to help you avoid some of the problems I have had over the years.
Where you buy is important
I am a very big fan of big box stores. I know not everybody likes them. I understand how they pressure small stores, etc… But, the fact of the matter is the vast majority of what they sell is high quality, they stand by it, and they are inexpensive. Which, as a consumer, is a good thing.
However, I won’t say the same thing about the their plants. I have had bad luck buying plants from the big boxes more than once. I think having such a large stock all in one place from multiple vendors introduces a lot of potential problems. If one greenhouse is infected with something, it has now potentially exposed all of the plants at that store. When it comes to gardening, it is worth you time to find a good local greenhouse. They will usually know more, and in my opinion generally have better products.
I will give you an example. I purchased some tulip bulbs 10 years ago from a high end catalogue. It was about 30% more expensive than what I found at my local big box store. Three years later, I moved and started a new garden with tulips. I purchased these from my big box store. In both gardens, the dirt was good, and the care was consistent. After 10 years, the original garden still has about 50% of the tulips that come up. I can’t say the same for the new garden. I have had to re-do the second garden altogether. I lost nearly all the tulips after three years. Even the first spring, only about 80% of those flowers sprouted and bloomed. I think that is a huge drop off and I think the bulbs at the big box were just cheaper.
I really suggest finding small local stores with greenhouses. Go to the stores, look for disease, yellow leaves, sick plants, bugs, etc… Talk to the people working there and ask them questions about the plants. It will be pretty clear who knows how to grow and take care of healthy plants. You can get a pretty good feel of the quality of the plants just by observing the store.
How you buy
Pricing can be tricky if you aren’t paying attention. I like to purchase small plants. They are cheaper and with a straw bale garden will quickly pass up your neighbors garden traditional garden because of the heat the straw bales produce in the spring.
I was at a store this spring, they were selling four inch pots for about $3.50. But, they were selling four plants in four containers that fit in a 4×4 size for $4.00. Realistically, they will be about the same size in a few weeks and you can reduce the price of your plants from $3.50 to $1.00.
You save a lot more money if you can start your own seeds too. If you are really into saving money, grow heirloom plants. You can keep the seeds and use them the next year.
Disease, sick plants, and bugs are warnings
It is important to inspect plants for disease, bugs, and other problems. Not just the plant you are buying, but check out the space it is in. You do not want to buy plants from a greenhouse that has an outbreak of something.
I purchased an orchid one time and it had scales. I just missed it. Less than a month later, I had 15 orchid plants in my home that were infected and very sick looking. In the summer, you can just move them outdoors and the ants will actually harvest scale. But it was winter and I ended up losing some plants over it.
Seeds are great! They are very inexpensive and you will have new healthy plants. Just make sure to use new potting mix or seed starting soil from a bag. Don’t use dirt from your yard or garden. You want to make sure it is disease free.
One of my favorite places to get seeds is Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. Here’s a post we did on them. If you are in town, it is worth spending half of a day there. Otherwise, you can order from them online.
One last note, I have also had good luck with plants from Burpee’s and Proven Winners. It is worth check these companies out.