Do Garden Nurseries Matter?


My homegrown tomatoes, not treated.

The nursery trade works very hard for gardeners, bringing them the newest plants on the market, along with old standbys that perform well in the area in which they live. To bring them those plants, regional native plants and named hybrids, many are using chemical fertilizers and insecticides to keep the plants in optimum condition.

It really is a double-edged sword using chemicals. Our pollinators are often the unwitting recipients of the chemical assault on insects harming plants. Chemical fertilizers also destroy soils and soil health too. Gardeners still buy from nurseries regardless of the need to employ chemical application.

Tree and shrub farm.

I find the badgering by bloggers a bit ironic because it is these particular businesses providing gardeners their plants.  Let’s look at the nursery trade. One area in which I am very familiar.

Cut flower farm, flowers grown in rows between food crops.

The nursery industry…

It seems if one wants to condemn an industry, they should at least be familiar with the inner workings and why the chemicals used may be necessary. Not every use of chemicals is black and white – to say every use is bad. Some plants are invasive, some are impossible to eradicate, and some insects can destroy an entire species of plant.

If one looks at the Cooperative Extension reports or has direct access to these scientific reports, they would see the long list of plants and insects of which I speak. So does this web badgering hurt the nursery industry?

The examples I am showing are all privately and independently owned growers and nurserymen. These are the same places where garden bloggers get their plants.

Most of the flack is hurled against the big box stores, but independents having to compete also use the same chemicals on plants for sale. Sure the independent nurserymen and growers have more control and usually are more responsible and caring to their land and crops grown, but in the end still must spray fields WHEN NECESSARY. I shout that because they don’t use chemicals indiscriminately, it costs them money. If they don’t use them, it costs them money. Another double-edge sword.

Cut flower farm and their garden center.

Commercial sales of cut flowers.

These businesses in this post are all family owned and operated. Having a business means weighing the benefits of using things like pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers since it adds to overhead costs. All shown provide the highest quality plants. Is it not the best looking, healthiest plants consumers want? Sadly, that usually happens by chemically treating the plants to promote fast and robust growth.

Local growers of annuals and perennials with their garden centers and greenhouses. Also, large nurseries selling at a local garden festival.

Finding true natural growers is difficult. Some might advertise it as so, but I wonder how true their methods. I am very doubting knowing as many growers as I do. When insect infestation effects an entire crop, something must be done quickly and efficiently.

These folks work very hard during a short growing season. Competition is tough and they compete for a limited number of customers. Plants need to be in tip-top shape or customers reject them. Most buyers don’t realize that quite a few plants are not sold by season’s end, and that in many cases becomes a huge loss for growers as plants hit the compost pile.


My homegrown peppers, not treated.

While it is pleasant to contemplate the elimination of chemical use in the nursery and grower’s trade, it is very unlikely to ever be realized unless mandated by law. Also not realized until gardeners change on the condition of plants they are willing to accept for purchase.

Local co-op growers and the country store.

Not many would eat that apple filled with worms, the lettuce pre-chewed or buy the plant covered with powdery mildew. The only control one has is to grow everything themselves, and make sure that includes meat and poultry too. But watch that treated seed. Yes, it gets harder and harder to get away from chemicals, but…

Good news this month… Insect control maker Ortho stated the company would immediately begin phasing out neonicotinoid pesticides for outdoor use because they are deadly to valuable pollinators such as bees. I was especially happy to learn of this and bees everywhere are doing the happy dance.

Local apple grower.

Responsible homeowners can have gardens remain chemical free, but not the plants they buy in most cases.  In an ideal world we would all farm and garden like days of old. The insects and birds would thrive.


Smart placement of cut flowers by the farm’s owners. The fruit trees are sprayed to keep insects down, which benefits keeping the cut flowers from being chewed. In past times, this would be a hedgerow to encourage insect pollinators, but buyers require blemish-free, reasonably priced  fruit today.

Another point..

Companion planting to control insects works in home gardens. Integrated pest management works too. More and more traditional pesticides are being phased out or removed from shelves like the Ortho example above. There is an increased need for accurate information on alternative practices and products provided by Cooperative Extensions in each state who are a primary source of pest management information for consumers. Safer, effective products are available and many nurseries have begun to use them.

Unfortunately, commercial crops (your perennials and annuals included) are the same plant for many acres. They are not going to have garlic or marigolds planted as companions like in gardens. If you shop at independent or specialty nurseries that are small in scale, you have your best bet at getting chemical free stock. You likely will pay a higher price as well.

I am not condoning chemical use in gardens, just noting there is little that can be done about use at medium to large nurseries if you keep buying their plants, vegetables and fruit. A customer’s support validates the method used to produce the products they buy.

Garden Nurseries and Growers Matter. If you are willing to pay much higher prices, some independents would be willing to give you what you want. It is that simple. Just expect food products less than perfect and chewed leaves on your new perennials.

There is little that can be done about the use of chemicals, but it is coming to where it may have to happen one day. Environmental problems grow and grow with each passing year. We paint ourselves into a corner at every turn…

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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