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Sourcing Wholesale Plants: Why a Nursery Tour Is Essential to Success

altrusa trike high clearance tractor spraying pre-emergent

As a landscaping professional you are always on the lookout for the next new source of wholesale plants. You want growers who can deliver the high caliber wholesale plants you need when you need them. How should you make choices about the nurseries you decide to work with? There is no substitute for a site visit to learn about the nursery, confirm their reputation, and take a good long look at all their plant stock. There is so much you can learn from a nursery tour. It will give you a feel for who the grower is and how they maintain plants. Do they follow good practices around things like irrigation and weed control? Do they have proprietary methods that you can see make a difference?

Here are the three reasons I offer when people ask me about the value of a nursery tour.

Reason 1: To learn how the nursery treats the plants

It may sound obvious, but a tour will tell you a lot about how plants get treated by the grower. 

When people come to Waverly Farm, they are often surprised at the uniformity of row after row of a plant. How do we do that? Well, in addition to weed control and proper irrigation, we have found that starting with smaller plants leads to better results.

Smaller plants grow faster, you might be surprised to learn. We propagate in a small pot, three and a half inches square, six inches deep and almost all the plants go right to the field from that pot. Why not use the typical three gallon pot?

When a plant starts life in a three gallon pot in artificial soil, it gets used to those conditions. If it spends an extensive period of time there, it is in for a big shock when it gets planted in the field. The plant is asking, “what is this strange, enormous world around me? The container was so nice and cozy, and now this!” So they tend not to venture out of that container sized root ball. 

02 seedlings in propagation pots2With a smaller plant, there is less of that artificial medium you're taking into the field. The roots expand out of the root ball faster and go on to finish faster. The results: A row 500 feet long of the same plant, every one of them nearly identical.

That’s just one example of what you might see at a nursery, and the questions you can get answers to. How does the grower prune? What’s the approach to managing the irrigation system? You can observe these operational tasks for yourself at the same time you are seeing the results growing in the field. 

Gaining insight into growing systems and methodology should give you confidence in the grower’s ability to produce consistently. Those B&B plants at the trade show that caught your attention in the first place?  You know that quality level is no mere accident of a “good season” because the way those plants look is borne out of a repeatable process.

Reason 2: To learn how the nursery operation is organized

Okay. You see how the plants are treated. That is a crucial piece of information. But what about the operation beyond the plants themselves? How is the nursery operation handled overall?

03 row of Cornus Florida  Cherokee Brave in bloomA tour will give you ample opportunity to find out, just by being there with your eyes wide open. Is the equipment taken care of? Are the fields relatively weed free? Are the workers carrying out their tasks skillfully and efficiently? 

While you are keeping your eyes open, don’t forget to ask questions about the administrative side of the operation. A nursery tour will give you a sense of how your order will be processed. The system Waverly Farm has developed over the years is what some might call hyper-organized and focused on details. Believe me, it beats the alternative. We want everything to go as smoothly as possible. We document the workflow and are always looking for ways to improve organization and production methods. What we do today will have an impact, good or bad, one year, five years, ten years from now. 

A tour is a way to get a first-hand look at the organization and neatness of the entire wholesale plant operation from the office to the field to the tool shed. 

Reason 3: To help the grower learn how to help you

04 cercis canadensis row in bloomYou’re not the only one on a reconnaissance mission here. A tour is also a great way for the grower to get to know you. I appreciate understanding more about customers and their needs. The more I know about them, the better I understand how Waverly Farm can help them.

A wholesale plant grower will want to know things like, what is your customer base? What type, size, and quantity of plants will you need for a typical project? What do the busy months look like for your business in terms of  volume? Having that information lets the nursery know if they have availability in the plant categories you will be trying to fill.

As if you needed convincing…

This is a tactile business where we literally get our hands dirty. What better way to understand the people you may be working closely with than to get right up close and personal? A nursery tour is the very best opportunity to find out what is new out in the field and what innovative practices the nursery employs. You may even spot some plants that you want to tag for an upcoming project. 

We all stand to benefit from high value wholesale plants sold at prices that honestly account for what it takes to produce that value. But how do we know we are purchasing the best plant material for the best price? Our ebook “Why Accurate Plant Pricing is Good for Everyone” will give you a fresh perspective on the delicate balance between price and value.