How to identify good nursery companies

It is important to know if you are purchasing from a good nursery company.  How can you identify a good nursery company?

A company’s reputation is a good first indicator.  Some companies have been in business for many years and built good reputations.  However, this is not always reliable.  One of my favorite nursery companies from the past had a period of financial difficulties and their quality slipped.  I think they are recovering, but I have not ordered anything from them since their problems.

In one instance I ordered sweet leaf (Stevia) plants from a company I had never heard of before.  About a month later the plants arrived – fortunately I was able to recognize that they had not shipped Stevia plants, they sent me banana plants. I think this company is just a gatherer of orders and then submits orders to other, real, nurseries.  Of course, I was not able to contact this company after the shipment.  I still have one banana plant surviving from the plants I received.  I had also given some away to friends.  I followed up with an order to a well known, reputable seed company – Park Seeds.  Park Seed Company sent me real Stevia plants. Park Seed Company has been in business for 150 years and I have ordered from them many times with good success.  This is a good nursery company.

This autumn I had an interesting experience that I though was not going to work out well, but I was wrong.  I ordered some plum trees from a very reputable nursery.  I received one of the trees and a notice that my order for the other tree was cancelled (and I was not charged), because that variety had sold out.  I was quite disappointed that they were selling more than they had in stock!  A few months later I received an e-mail stating that the tree I wanted was back in stock, but when I checked it was a standard size tree, not a dwarf as I wanted.  However, I placed an order at that time for a different variety of dwarf plum tree.  When the tree arrived, it was not the tree that I ordered, it was a pecan tree.  I sent an e-mail to the company on Saturday, explaining that they had shipped the wrong plant.  On Monday I received a reply that they were correcting the error.  A few days later I received the Redheart dwarf plum that I had ordered.  The company told me to keep the pecan tree – Well done Stark Brothers Nursery!  Another good nursery company in my experience and from discussions with other gardeners.

Pay attention to how a company treats you and the quality of the plants that they ship.  This way you will have a better chance of getting what you want and getting good quality plants.  Never the less, it is good to periodically try new companies to see if you want to add them to your list of quality suppliers.


How to tell if seed are good

I often have seed left from previous years and wonder if they are viable.  Sometimes my plants will surprise me with seeds, but these seed often are not viable and do not grow.  Testing the ability of these seeds to germinate saves time and space in my garden.  Recently my gerbera daisy made seeds, so I tested them.  I also found some one-year old liatris seeds that I decided to test.

I put the seeds into sealable plastic bags on moistened paper towels, each type in separate bags:

Gerbera seed test
Liatris seed test


After a couple of weeks the liatris seed were sprouting, but there was no sign of growth in the gerbera seeds:

Liatris seedings closeup

I carefully removed the sprouted liatris seedlings from the moist paper towel and placed them into pots of potting soil:

Liatris seedlings and forceps ready for planting
Liatris seedling planted in potting soil

They are growing well and I will transplant them to the garden later in the spring, or give some to friends.

After rain should I irrigate?

Do I need to irrigate? After it had not rained from early October to mid-February (except a couple of 0.08 inch events in January), the soil here is dry.  I dug a post-hole and could not find moist soil even to a depth of 18 inches.  AND THEN it rained 0.66 inches as measured in my rain gauge.   So, how deeply did this moisten the soil?  In my soil I measured 5.5 inches of moist soil.  I used a “Brown Probe” developed by Dr. Paul Brown, USDA researcher in Montana, to help dryland farmers determine if they had enough soil moisture to grow a crop.  I also dug a hole and measured with a yard stick.  The measurements agreed.  The Brown probe is the easier way to measure the depth of moist soil.

When using a soil moisture probe such as the Brown probe, you push the probe into the soil and determine the depth it penetrated before stopping.  It will stop when it hits dry soil, a rock, a pipe, or a large root.  This is not as valid a reading in soil that has been rototilled or recently turned with a spade or garden fork.  To assure an accurate reading probe in several locations to be sure you didn’t  hit a rock, pipe, or root.

It is also important to measure in an appropriate area.  Near areas of roof runoff (water harvesting), recent irrigation, or low areas where water collects, the measured depth of moist soil.  This is good if that is where you are gardening, but if you want to know the benefit of the recent rain over the larger area, measure in an area where water does not collect from other areas and from an area that is not so steep that the water runs off before soaking in.

Now I know that I still need to irrigate.  At this time of year (February) in Central New Mexico tree buds are becoming active and stimulating root growth in preparation for the coming growing season.  I must moisten an appropriate depth for the trees.  I have also begun turning my garden soil with a garden fork and find it much easier to turn the soil if it is moist.  Dry soil is rock-hard and hard to turn.

Paul Brown soil moisture probe inserted into soil to determine depth of moist soil
Paul Brown soil moisture probe
Brown probe removed from soil next to inches scale to show depth of moist soil
Soil moisture depth 24 hours after first significant rain in 4.5 months
Meter stick in hole showing corroboration with Brown probe moist soil depth determination
Soil moisture depth by digging

The line between the lighter soil below the yard stick indicates the “dry line”.  The angle I had to hold the camera makes it look like the depth measurement is 6 inches, but that is a parallax error.  The true depth is 5.5 inches.

Photography reveals insect infestation

Today I decided to photograph the interesting flowers of my Bryophyllum pinnatum (Kalanchoe pinnatum). Upon looking at the photo immediately after taking the picture I discovered that the plant was infested with aphid insects. This is a benefit of digital cameras, you can immediately see the picture. This plant was in a south-facing (brightly lit) window behind other plants so that I could not easily get close enough to discover the insects. The camera proved extremely useful.

Bryophyllum pinnatum (Kalanchoe pinnatum) with aphid infestation

Southwest GardenSmith!

Welcome to Southwest GardenSmith.

The Southwestern U.S. is beautiful, full of history, and a challenging place to garden.  However, some things are best grown here; others are challenging, but worth growing.

New Mexico sunset

From the beautiful sunsets, to the beautiful flowers and hazardous spines of the cacti, to the delicious, fiery chile peppers this is a wonderful place to live.  To learn more about me visit my Welcome Page.