Plant Selection Doesn’t End with Your Plant List


Many contractor businesses use materials that are manufactured and have specific quality standards. For example, a plumber may choose a particular Kohler faucet, or an electrician might decide on a certain Lutron switch.

Why?  Because they want that consistent quality from that manufacturer on every job.

As landscape contractors we also have the benefit of consistent quality with certain manufactured products and materials. But for plant material, quality is not always a sure thing.

Sure there are some growers like Monrovia that produce good quality plants consistently, and certainly some smaller growers too. But more often we’re dealing with plant suppliers that bring in plants from many different growers. This causes uncertainty in the quality area and puts the burden on us to purchase our plants carefully.

More Effort?  Yes, But with ROI

In the last article we talked about the process of first using “form & function” to help us with plant selection. Then we considered the cultural differences of each plant to make sure they would thrive in their new location. And now that we have a list, it’s time to locate the quality plant(s) we want.

Why the effort for selecting plants and then buying good quality ones?

The short answer is so your landscapes are exceptional and become more beautiful over time with minimal care. This is certainly what you want, but also what you’d like your customers to say about your work.

Here are just some of the benefits to selecting and buying your plants carefully:

  • Using “form” as your first step in the process guarantees you’re addressing the design aspect of your planting.
  • Matching the conditions of the site with what a plant naturally prefers (planting zone, exposure, soil type, moisture requirements, etc.) ensures it will thrive and not need special care.
  • Careful plant purchasing gets you the size & quality plants you want. Having this “control” shows right away your quality standards on the job.
  • Quality plants also mean less call-backs and replacements.

By selecting and buying your plants carefully you get the immediate benefit of a beautiful planting and the compliments that go with it. But it doesn’t stop there. The planting will continue to develop properly and be an on-going example of your work.


Longstalk Hollies on truck
Finding and Purchasing Plants on Your List

This is a task I’ve always put a lot of importance on.

Here are some of the tactics used to find and purchase plants:

  • Many companies look at the task of finding and purchasing plants as more of a routine chore. Some will send their list over to a supplier and have them pick out the plants. That’s like asking a stranger to pack your parachute for you. :-)
  • Other companies may send an employee to pick up plants on the list. This can improve your odds of getting quality material, especially if your employee is experienced in what to look for and what “your standards” are.
  • And finally, there are owner/operators who take on the task themselves. Why? Because engaged owner/operators know their client’s wishes best and the design intent too. They often have the most experience, the strongest relationship with the vendor and can make decisions on the spot if there are changes and substitutions.
You’ll know what’s the best tactic for finding and purchasing plants. It will be based on your situation. And it will be the tactic that gets the best and most consistent results.

What to Look for When Purchasing Plants

  • General health – Certainly color, fullness, shape and structure are the first things to look for.
  • General condition – The plants have been through a lot. Trucking and handling have possibly taken a toll. Look closely for cracks in stems and branches that may not be immediately noticeable. Look for discolored and wilted leaves possibly indicating plants were tied up or packed together for too long.
  • Root system – Check the sturdiness of the stem as it connects to the root system. See if the stem is loose and moves at all. This is generally not a good sign and should be avoided. Also, large root stubs either visible or evident under the burlap can indicate the plant was not properly root pruned and therefore may not have a substantial enough root system.

There can be other things to look for, depending on the plant type. But if you look for the indicators listed above you’ll reduce the plant loss and replacements on your jobs.

Control or Eliminate the Variables

I mentioned the word “control” earlier as we talked about purchasing plant material.

In the “owner/operator” model I like to use the word control as it relates to the variables we deal with in our day-to-day operations. Every system you create…frankly, everything you do should be centered around “controlling or eliminating variables”. This is a primary tenet of our model. It lets us consistently minimize loss and maximize gain & profit.

The smarter, larger companies try to do the same, but they’ll never get the level of control and attention to detail that we can.

We have the ability to create this unfair advantage, so that’s what we do.


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