Friday, September 30, 2011

Since You Asked...Stark Bro's

This is fall tree-planting season...and all those mail-order ads that crop up at this time of year can be mighty tempting. But it's easy to get burned when purchasing sight-unseen nursery stock. Also, mail-order stock is bare-root, which requires special consideration. So Meg Cloud at Stark Bro's Nurseries & Orchard Co. has graciously offered helpful advice.

And as a special thank you to our blog readers, Stark Bro's is making the nifty coupon offer at the bottom of today's posting!

Q. Meg, what should a potential customer look for in a mail-order nursery?

A company's reputation among the general public should be a good indicator of their other qualities and characteristics. With a little effort, a google search should result in websites, social sites, forums, and reviews on the nurseries under consideration.

Find out if the mail-order nursery primarily grows their own stock, or if they purchase from another grower just to resell it. Look for the extent of their expertise for your particular growing interest. Stark Bro's prides themselves on being experts in fruit trees, roses, and small fruits, whereas other nurseries may claim evergreens or vegetables as their area of mastery.

Also, do you know things [about the nursery] that are important to you: customer service? Price? Quality? It's my humble opinion that any reputable business should have excellent customer service with an understandable correlation between the quality and the price of their products. But everyone has different priorities.

Dealing with live plants is precarious by nature—but be aware that reputation and quality usually result in one-time planting, while lower prices from obscure nurseries may result in several replacements.

Q. What is the advantage of mail ordering as opposed to purchasing stock locally?

A. Most reputable mail-order nurseries will guarantee a true-to-name variety, whereas local (and some less reputable mail-order) nurseries may not have their resell stock correctly labeled. You can usually find a broader selection of varieties by mail order (particularly in specialized categories, such as fruit trees).

Typically, the warranties on mail-order stock are much better than with local purchases. In addition, local nurseries usually sell potted (higher cost) instead of bare-root (lower cost) stock, which affects your pocketbook.

Q. When choosing trees and shrubs from a mail-order nursery, what is important to know (besides your hardiness zone, and making sure the plant is tolerant of your local extreme weather)?

A. I would definitely recommend knowing the warranty or guarantee behind the nursery stock. Some mail-order nurseries have limitations (such as time or circumstances) on their warranties. Stark Bro's [for instance], has a comprehensive guarantee on all of their trees and plants for up to a year, with a free replacement or purchase-price refund if a customer is for any reason dissatisfied with the product.

Also, know whether the trees/shrubs in question are disease-resistant. A tree is usually labeled "disease resistant" if it has a certain amount of hardiness against typical weather-related fungal or bacterial diseases.

Consider the mature height of the stock in question: will you be able to handle its proper care at that size? Larger stock may end up subject to injury or other issues that cannot be easily handled.

[Note: Weatherproofing Your Landscape: A Homeowner's Guide to Protecting and Rescuing Your Plants, provides guidance on selecting weather-resistant species.]

Q. What kinds of preparations should the customer make in anticipation of their ordered stock?

A. Know the soil, light and drainage requirements of the plants to be ordered. Have the planting site marked out, with consideration to the mature sizes of each tree or shrub.

If you have a planting area with poor drainage, be prepared to amend your soil before or at the time of planting. [Note: If you aren't sure how to do this, consult your local Cooperative Extension office.]

Prepare to plant your bare root stock as soon as possible following its arrival. Start Bro's recommends planting right away, but certainly within a week of shipment.

If you'll need to store the bare roots for a time, have a dark, damp place available with minimum light (a shed or garage would be suitable). Keep the bare roots covered in damp newspaper or cloth until you are able to plant. The goal is to keep these trees and shrubs dormant—which limits the transplant shock and any potential weather damage that would normally hurt a leafy green plant.

To get a head start, you could dig your planting holes the day before the anticipated arrival of your stock.

Q. Finally, what is the biggest mistake customers can make when receiving/planting bare-root stock?

A. The biggest mistake would probably be waiting too late to plant. If proper care isn't taken, the roots will dry out and become brittle. This is almost certain death for a bare-root tree. Should you notice the roots drying out, Stark Bro's recommends soaking the root ball in a bucket of water 6 to 8 hours before planting.

Here's the fine print: 1 coupon per customer; must be used online at; code must be entered as a COUPON, not a promotion; expires Nov.30, 2011; good for $5 off orders over $50.

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