Saturday, June 22, 2013

Don't Try This At Home

Caveat: My anecdote today has more than a few garden-variety lessons and plant tips. Please don't try this at home unless you are willing to do it correctly.

My husband stopped by Habitat for Humanity ReStore off Orange Blossom Trail yesterday on his way home from work.  The minute he got home, he couldn't wait to tell me about the twenty-some plants available that had been donated to Habitat for Humanity by a local nursery.  They were beautiful 10 gallon and 35 gallon camellias.  What? Landscape plants at Habitat for Humanity? Expensive 10gal and 35gal camellia standards at Habitat for Humanity?  I wanted one...or two...or three.

We stopped by a day later and as we pulled into the parking lot, my husband said, "Oh they're gone already." I knew it! I should have dropped everything and went yesterday to get them!  All we saw were these huge nursery pots and nothing in them.  Well almost nothing, just potting soil.

We parked and went up the ramp to ask about the camellias.  As we walked up, we noticed there was an old, dinged up, white, van.  Full of plants.  I thought to myself, those look like ligustrums crammed in between the two sets of backseats from the floor to the ceiling and over the seats.  No, they were camellias.  Hmmm, they must have bought the last two or three camellias. 

A worker came out of the open front entrance and started shaking her head. 'They were supposed to take the pots and soil, too,' she said perturbed.  I asked if they were all gone and if they really were 10gal and 35 gal camellia standards.  She nodded yes.  Dangit, I wanted one!  She was not a happy camper since they did not have any way to dispose of huge amount of soil or the leftover pots.

I went inside to see the price and saw on their chalkboard that they were selling them at $35 for the 10gal and the 35gal for $55.  What????  The size and quality of the camellias I would estimate at a retail nursery would have been $50 - $70 for each of the 10 gallon camellias and around $150 for each 35 gallon camellia standard.  The HOH prices were unbelievable and they were sold.

I continued to talk to the employee about the camellias and found out that whoever bought the camellias was supposed to take the entire soil and pots with them.  The camellias had been ripped out of their pots. HOH doesn't have the means to take care of landscaping, especially plants the size of small trees or clean up a messy parking lot.

I then noticed right next to the soil-filled pots, a van crammed full of ALL of the camellia standards from floor to ceiling. They had forced all 21 - 22 large camellias into this vehicle on top of each other without the rootballs!

A woman approached us and in faulty English with a thick Caribbean accent said that she and her husband had bought the plants (she didn't know what they were called) for her son's front yard and didn't have any way to get the entire nursery pots and trees home.  The woman and her husband were driving to Wedgewood, a community outside of Cocoa Beach with them. Both the employee and I thought out loud without thinking. "They're not going to make it."  She looked confused and asked what we meant. I began asking her specific questions about her yard. (Gardeners out there will know what I mean...)
  • Do you have full sun or shade?   (Full sun)
  • Do you have sandy soils or acidic soils?  (Sand, near Cocoa Beach)
  • Do you have an irrigation system?  (No)
Oh, dear.  This woman had bought all of the camellias and ripped them out of their pots with hardly any roots, stuffed them in an un-airconditioned van on top of each other and had to drive  about two hours home and the plants weren't going to get in the ground today!

Camellias, whether they are japonica or sasanquas, on a good day, nicely established in their pots, and planted correctly, need:
  • Full or partial shade
  • Acidic soils
  • Amended with lots of organic material soils
  • Lots of water to get established.
  • Mid-to no salt tolerance.
  • Planted in the fall and winter.
These camellias were going to be planted in poor sandy soil, in full sun, with no irrigation, and only a partial root system with possible salt spray and/or saltwater in the middle of summer.  And I bet the unknowing homeowner will plant them with fertilizer.

What will probably happen to the camellias is that overnight and for the next two weeks, they will lose all their leaves and buds. It won't be a pretty sight and the homeowner will probably think they are dead and throw them all away.

The cost?!! This couple might have spent over a thousand to thirteen hundred dollars for these beauties! I say might because I didn't ask HOH if they gave her a cut rate since she was supposed to take all of them and soil and pots at one time.  But HOH usually dont cut their rates because they have everything at such a low price already.  Still, even if the 22 plants cost her $30 apiece, that means $660.  And these camellias don't have a good chance at making it.  And I wanted one....

The woman asked me to write instructions on the back of a worn half envelope for her son.  She was taking the mistakes of what her and her husband had done calmly.  I would have been crying.  Maybe she didn't understand what she had done or what the HOH employee and I were telling her so that the plants would survive.

Water is going to be critical if these camellias are to survive. They will need 30 gallons or more every day for at least two to three weeks in our Florida summer heat, if  there is no rain.

So here's my tips for buying plants. 
  • Know the name of the plant.  Write it down.  Research it.
  • Know what a specific plant needs to survive.
  • What the sunlight, soil moisture, pH conditions it needs.
  • Have the conditions the plant needs to survive or create it with right locations, soil amendments, watering care, and fertilizer after it's established.
  • Make sure the weather/seasonal temperatures are not stressful if you don't have automatic irrigation on the plant.  Fall is a better time to plant camellias.
  • (Do not) Pull a plant out of its rootball or out of the soil the roots are planted in.  Pot or not.
  • (Do not) Think you can handwater a shocked plant (recently dug up and roots cut) enough. 
  • (Do not) Plant, or transplant, prune heavily, and fertilize at the same time. Wait until you see new growth and you'll know the plant is happy enough and established to handle the stress of fertilizer.
  • (Do not) Cut both the roots and foliage at the same time.  Too much stress. See the previous tip about new growth.  That's when you can prune the foliage.
  • Yes, sometimes Habitat for Humanity ReStores get landscaping donations.  Stop in on a regular basis and see what they have!
  • Habitat for Humanity ReStores are great places to find inexpensive pots and china to repurpose for plants that you give as presents.  Most people donate sets of cups, bowls, or plates when they get a crack in them, break or lose one.  A set of three unbroken and in perfect condition cups will make an excellent size for threesome of matched pots of herbs for a windowsill. 
  • I'm planning to use the three Renaissance-themed coffee cups for little bonsai 4-inch rosemary or olive trees. The cracked herb soup bowl will make a gorgeous saucer underneath a planted pot on my front porch.  The large round cup will make an excellent mini-planter of indoor plants for an office desk or for a windowsill African violet get-well gift. The cost of all six pieces? $4.00 and your donation is going for a good cause! I even left the bowl's 'Minnie Pearl' price tag for 50 cents on.
It's always a serendipitious moment when you find a bargain or great plants at a cheap price.  But don't waste them just because you are getting a bargain.  Make wise landscaping decisions and you'll have a beautiful landscape and more money to buy more great plants.


I'll post the Renaissance cups when I get them planted.

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