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I pretty much don't ask Home Depot for plant advice. We have so many excellent gardening call-in radio shows in Austin that there is really no need.

Over a 12-year period, I've probably purchased all of 5 plants at the Big Box stores and 2 of the 5 were mislabled. I'd say 80% of my plants come from local nurseries and another 18% come from plant swaps.

I have purchased mulch, potting soil, pots, & hoses at box stores, but that's pretty much it.

I had a dear friend that went to work for HD at one point. She was one of the best gardeners I knew. I think she eventually made the leap from HD to one of their major local suppliers of garden plants and became their perennials merchandizer instead. Now I think she chooses plants for distribution for a local part of her garden zone. The HDs in her area always seem to be a bit more spot on than the ones in my local area which get shipped plant material for the generic Upper Midwest which includes zone 3-7-- a big variation in what is actually hardy and perennial.

I always ask which day the local HD is getting their deliveries each spring, so I can choose plants before they are neglected by the "certified professionals".

Frankly, I don't think you were hard enough. I loathe having to go to HD for anything. It is truly the most frustrating place in the world to shop.

I agree the HD jobs are low-pay and presumably dead-end, and would have no problem if HD didn't brag about how highly trained and knowledgeable they are. "Certified consultant" and all that.

Mary, there's nothing more to the Erica Glasener story - sorry! Except I guess that she told me she DID encourage HD to reveal her name and credentials, but was told they preferred an anonymous corporate presence on the website. Dumb!

Maybe not the expertise but the merchandise has been, here in New York, greatly improved. Most plants are now coming from local nurseries and many organic plants are available. If Rick with the BBQ doesn't know what plants are deer resistant, just read the information on the label or bring an Iphone. For real expertise and that one special plant, you should visit the nursery in your local town anyway.
Don't want them to go out of business do you?

Susan, you really opened the can of worms on this posting! I've worked at a big box store and always requested working in the garden center (cuz I have a BS in horticulture) but the stores don't care. They do give "training" to the employees but nothing specific about plants. If a person in the garden center received trainingl, it was probably the asst manager who is never around.

All that aside, THIS is exactly why the IGCs need to unite and communicate with the public about the services, assistance and education (not to mention value!) that they can provide. Keep up the GREAT work!

My new Motto:

If You buy plants at Home Depot are you really a gardener after all?


Couple things:

1. If only you knew what goes on with HD and their content.

2. One of my best friends works at HD in the garden center. She has a Masters in Environmental Science and knows more about plants than pretty much anyone I know. She works there because a) she likes plants and b) it is a job. She works her butt off, and unlike other people in my town sitting around collecting unemployment, she works.

Why does she work there instead of somewhere else? There are no jobs where I live. None. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. It took a couple of years for her to get hired on there.

Additionally, the commenter who mentioned health insurance--yeah. How many IGCs can afford to pay their people and give paid leave and health insurance? Not many that I know.

Listen, I'm an equal opportunity plant buyer. I buy from HD, Lowes, my IGCs, the Farmer's Market, and I'll mail order, too. I hate to knock anybody selling plants of any kind.

That being said, whatever is going on with their "certified this or that" online or in the stores is going on from the top, down.

Don't hate on the worker bees. That just makes me sad.

If I had to take a job at a clothing store to pay the mortgage, everyone would be sent away with a polo shirt. Polo shirts are my petunias of the clothing world.

It is one thing to be mad at the corporation. I'm upset with plenty of corporations. It is another thing to be mean to the people who are working for a living rather than collecting unemployment because they can. (My neighbor spent 11 months surfing instead of working because he said "Why get a job if I don't have to?") And yes, I'm a democrat, and no I'm not against social programs.

I try really hard not to react online. It doesn't do any good, but really? Being hateful about people trying to do a job? That's pretty low.

Katie, I've read through the post and the comments and have to wonder what statements this conclusion of yours is based on:
"Being hateful about people trying to do a job? That's pretty low."
My criticisms are of HD's corporate policies, especially in the marketing department that's responsible for touting their certification, and posting bad info on the website. I'm as sympathetic toward worker bees as the next lefty, I swear.

About gardening as it pertains to Home Depot: Last summer in Massachusetts I could only find women's gardening gloves in the Garden Department. Unless things have changed, if you are male, you have to get work gloves in one of the building /construction departments. Interesting.

I don't ask for advice at HD garden centers anymore. I don't buy there either unless I'm looking for generic merchandise. I live in the Central Valley of California & we are blessed with many a fabulous IGC (even after losing several to the Great Recession). Whether I want something unique or just high quality I go there. HD is great for home interior & hardscape (to a degree anyway) advice, but my plant $$ go to the IGCs.

Sigh--the Home Depot Garden Center. I want to hate them, but I just can't. For years, we went to a nice, basic, friendly family-owned IGC. Nothing exotic, but they good prices, good quality. Then a couple of years ago they decided to go all upscale on us. Catering to the condo-development set. Instead of stocking the workhorses of the summer garden, they now carry a full line of bougainville (sp?)and other Chicago- area "annuals." [note the quote marks]

At the same time, the garden center at the closest HD has improved greatly. Better options and quality than in the past. An attempt(if admittedly mercenary) green bandwagon. Would I ask them for advice? No. Would I buy big shrubs and trees from them? No. But annuals for summer color. Sure.

I agree with the commenters that point out that most of the HDGC staff is seasonal. And as Syms always reminds us, the educated consumer is the best buyer.

And finally...I'm sorry about the woman who bought petunias instead of pansies. But personally, I think that planting annuals is a great way to learn about gardening through experience.

My Rant is Done Now.

One of the most honest blogs I've ever read. Not only did you expose "certification" for what it is, but you took on that most sacred of cows — the Master Gardeners!
As a 60+ year gardener who has achieved Master Gardener "status" in two states (because there was no reciprocity) I can tell you that the title is pretty much a joke!
MG training suffers from the same problem that all other "adult education" training does: The only qualification for admission is that you have the money for the tuition.
Yes, you can certainly learn something in their classes, but that's a far cry from making you an expert. In one of my MG classes a person graduated who didn't know how to plant a seed! In the other we actually had a lecture on the importance of becoming a community activist. Give me a break!
The best thing to come out of MG training was that I met some nice people.

Makes me wonder if there are progressive factions in the HD cubes: the certification program, and about a decade ago, a NWF-HD program. I looked into that program, where volunteers would represent NWF in HD stores and offer information on wildlife-friendly gardens. But then I went to the local HD and looked around. The entrance aisle at the garden center is lined with poisons! If you have to wait in line, you're breathing poison for as long as it takes. It makes sense from a retailing pov (expensive stuff near the registers), but it reeks. Aside from the poisons, the general lack of wildlife-friendly plants (and no natives at all) made me wonder why a retailer like HD would even want to have a partnership with NWF.

Or maybe it's just greenwashing: you can post signs about your nursery professionals (see? we're as qualified as that local garden center!) and about your environmental creds (see? we encourage people to plant wildlife-friendly gardens!).

As with the MG program, ultimately it comes down to knowing which individuals you can trust. I don't think much of the MG program for the reasons stated, but it looks like a great social activity for women (mostly) who are interested in plants and want to put together a bulk order of garlic or seeds. And some of the individuals who are MGs know what they're talking about -- I don't discriminate because they're MGs :). I do, however, think twice when I encounter someone who uses the MG title in contexts unconnected with the MG program. One person added "master gardener" on her business card because she said it made clients think she knew what she was doing.

I, too have gotten horrible advice from Home Depot employees. I started container gardening this year, and I had to go back three times before I found someone who knew the right type of soil for the purpose (the first time they sold me what was essentially mulch, the second time they recommended a brand which I later found out is notorious for growing mold and mushrooms better than plants). I'd love to be able to get better advice, but don't know where else to go. In my area, the only other options I know of are Calloways (a chain, but at least they specialize in plants) and a couple independent places. I used to work at the Calloways, and they do have some people who know what they're doing - but for the average customer it's often a 20-30 minute wait before they can talk to you. And at the independent places, I have trouble getting anyone to talk to me at all.
Does anybody have any ideas at all about where else to look for advice? I am dangerously close to giving up and just turning to Yahoo Answers for my gardening questions.

Here is one of my favorites. I was at HD and remembered I needed bone meal for upcoming bulb planting. So I wandered over to the garden section, and asked where the bone meal was. The guy was nice enough. He finally located it, and then asked, "Do you mind my asking what you use that for?

I like the BB stores like HD for very late season cheap plants. I'm never going to go there for advice or to ask substantive questions to their staff, but in late summer and fall when they're getting ready to pitch the perennials/shrubs/trees into the dumpster (since they're getting ready to close the outdoor area or make room for X-Mas stuff), you can actually find some bargains. Yeah they might be ratty looking or in rough shape, but some are worth taking a flier on and seeing if you can nurse them back to health. And depending on who's working, you also might engage in a bit of haggling and get things for even cheaper.

And even though I'm not necessarily proud of this, there are fantastic treasures to be found (for free) if you live on the edge of the law and don't mind "dumpster diving" for plants that have been thrown away at the Home Depot's and Lowe's of the world.

You cannot be too hard on a place that sells Miracle-Gro & pesticides, and then sells a package of ladybugs to make up for the fact that killing all the native plants ("weeds") keeps away beneficial insects who need them, thus removing the food supply of many birds (the insects)--And so on, along those lines & worse.
"Scotts Miracle-Gro -- the bird-killing company?
The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company pleads guilty to knowingly selling poisoned birdseed and lawn and garden care products containing undocumented pesticides to an unsuspecting public ..."

The big box stores are getting better. In Phoenix, AZ with 300 chill hours annually the HD's are actually getting fruit trees that will fruit. In the past it used to be a laugher what they were selling to their customers. Now my big complaint is no rootstock info is present.

But the BAD NEWS for the local mom & pop nurseries that sell their trees for $35-$70 each is that the big box customers can buy the same variety for $10-$12. Even if not ideal, I know Amerikans; cheap wins every time.

Putting aside the many inherent limitations of big box store garden centers, there are two failures I cannot forgive them for.

1. Failing to water the damn plants. Better get there the day the truck arrives with new material or you're in for half-dead, badly stressed plants. The failure to water trees and shrubs is even worse than the failure to water annuals and perennials. You don't have to know anything about plants to hold a hose -- or to tell your subordinates to hold a hose. So. Water. The. Damn. Plants.

2. Egregious zone denial. I was visiting Minnesota last weekend and ended up in a HD in Richfield. I was happy to see lots of staff watering plants, but I laughed out loud at some of the plants being sold as perennial in zone 4 -- as well as some of the very tender annuals being pushed in early May (albeit in a freakishly warm spring).

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