Scotts Miracle Gro and Your Lawn


GrassGarden columnist Debra Smith writes to me after listening to a teleconference sponsored by the Garden Writers Association and Scotts Miracle Gro, "After sitting in on the teleconference, I feel a little dirty, but not in
a good I-just-shoveled-six-cubic-yards-of-compost way."

She goes on to say this on her blog:

The participants on this panel, which included a Scotts VP of
sustainability, had not a word to say about runoff from chemical
treatment of lawns into the groundwater supply or air pollution from
lawn mowers….And no one
mentioned grass alternatives….It’s
no surprise that a lawn and garden company wants us to keep growing
grass and feeding it with loads of fertilizers. The
carefully-controlled teleconference struck me as a rather pathetic pep
rally for grass.

Well!  They don’t call her Mudracker for nothing! Scotts does donate to any number of GWA initiatives, which no doubt provides all kinds of opportunities for these little educational seminars for garden writers in need of a story idea.

So this got me looking around at Scott’s new website, which includes forums and sort-of-but-not-really blogs.  (Why do these big companies think people want them to host their blogs?)  So far it seems to be infrequently used and not exactly a hub of horticultural discussion, but hey, it lets the suits tell either other that they’re doing something ‘virtual’ and ‘viral’ that will appeal to the youngsters.  I got no further than a post on the forum from a user who thought his/her posts had been deleted.  Someone named KipatScotts replied:

Nobody deleted it, UN. We don’t have
the power to delete it. This is the same software run on many newspaper
sites, like USAToday, and those liberal, 1st amendment junkies don’t
take too kindly to that. ; ) I studied with ’em in college, so I know
that of which I speak/type.

(By ‘that,’ we think he means the alleged deleting of posts.)  Yeah, I knew some of those liberals back in college, too.  Shudder.  Glad those days are over. 

That was it for me–what started out as a post about Scotts lawn care advice is coming to an abrupt end as I get creeped out by their website.  Why is it that a big company, with all that money, still manages to be so profoundly uncool?  Oh, wait.  I may have answered my own question.


  1. Well, it looks like their new site has a browser bug – those links only work in Internet Explorer, not in Firefox – another example of their uncoolness?

    But here’s what this post makes me want to know more about: what readers think of the financial relationship between Scotts and GWA. GWA members, especially.

  2. The relationship between GWA and Scott’s is simply appalling. One is about exploiting the ignorance of a gullible public–and who cares if we screw up the planet at the same time–and the other is about, what?

    I’m pretty far from an anti-capitalistic liberal–but I find myself constantly wondering lately where is our government, when it comes to keeping companies like Scott from poisoning the commons for profit?

  3. The foremost thing we all seem to forget about Scott’s is that it is a “Chemical Company”, not a garden company. It always has been. Their expansion in to “Organics” is about organic products being an area of actual sales growth, where their long held stronghold on the garden market is shrinking with the changing of the marketplace and the supposed “demise of gardening”. People still garden, even Y and X’ers (I really hate using those labels) they are just waking up to not dumping millions of tons of chemicals in to their yards and play spaces.

    If small independent nurseries are rallying to drop Scotts products from their shelves, because Scott’s politics does not support them and only pays lip service to them… why are the garden writers of GWA climbing in to their toxic waste dump wagon?

  4. Thank you Hap. They are a chemical company. Exactly. I’m proud to say that when the Scott’s ads appear on PBS, my kids have been trained to boo and hiss.

  5. I’d be happy to see Miracle-Gro disappear from store shelves for good… but I have to say I am not finding anything to dislike about Scott’s Organic Choice Lawn Food.

    My thrifty aunt bought a bag for her very small, rangy looking front lawn and it responded with lush, green growth.

    But, OMG, she’s going to have to mow it with an evil, spewing gas-powered mower! No, because I made her trade in her gas mower years ago for a cordless, electric mulching mower.

    Would I buy Organic Choice? If it’s OMRI-approved. Just checked and it is! Who knew?!

    Would I choose a big bag of reasonably priced Organic Choice over a smaller, pricier organic plant food at an independent nursery? Depends on how my monthly budget’s doing, I suppose. (Sorry, Trey)

    I think there are shades of gray here. Not everyone can afford to shun HD all the time. Sometimes I can; other times it feels like too much of a splurge.

    To me, it doesn’t really matter if a company is large or small. I’ve seen “small, organic” companies selling complete crap (hello, TerraCycle), and now I’m seeing “large, evil” corporations selling what looks to be a very good product at a very good price (hello, Scott’s Organic Choice Lawn Food).

    In the end, shouldn’t we ask, “Is this a good organic product at a fair price?” and not get too wrapped up in who’s selling it or where we bought it?

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful to shift Scott’s product line to completely organic/sustainable/fair trade? We can, by voting with the almighty dollar.

    Now, you may not ever have to shop at HD, but your neighbors might. Your widowed aunt might. When someone on a fixed income calls you from HD and asks what fertilizer they should buy, will you say, “Whatever you do, don’t buy anything from Scott’s! They’re eeeeeeeevil…”?

    Wouldn’t you rather they use the organic, OMRI-approved Scott’s stuff? If we hate, hate, hate on Scott’s, we might be stuck with Miracle-Gro and TerraCycle in our soils, rivers and aquifers for a long time.

  6. It does matter WHERE you buy your organic products. Here in California those of us in the retail nursery business are regulated by the Department of Agriculture. Our crops are listed on the report of Agricultural products that the state releases. We are in essence farmers and farms. In many cases the small independent garden center is the last small farm in a suburban area.

    If you support small farms and farming then you must pay for it. If you support large agricultural concerns, Home Depot, Lowes and Scotts, then purchase their products. Remember that what we will be left with will be determined by WHERE you spend your money.

  7. Trey, I do patronize both independent nurseries and big box stores. If money were no object, I’d cut out the box stores in a heartbeat.

    But when I see a tiny box of organic fert. for $8, $10, $12 that might cover one flowerbed if I’m lucky, I think, “That’s too expensive.” It’s all about supply and demand, right? If a little shop sells more, they can afford to lower their prices. Also, if they lower their prices, they will probably sell more product.

    Who knows, maybe one day independent nurseries will band together like small farms do (a nursery cooperative) and use their bulk purchasing power to pay less for their nursery wholesale purchases.

    I think you mentioned earlier that you were shifting your inventory over to organics (entirely?). That’s great and I assume that will allow you to lower your markup a bit (bulk discounts?) on the organic products. Yes? No?

    I would love an economist’s view on how to promote organic products to the point where they are as inexpensive as synthetic ferts… and available to gardeners of all income levels.

    I don’t have to go too far outside my treesy, Miracle-Gro laden culdesac to see that there’s a recession going on and that gardening, for many, is a luxury.

    Glad to see an increasing focus on edible landscapes, anyway.

  8. I agree with Angela. It does matter where you buy your organic products. For exactly the reason that she cites.

    There are two aspects of the buying decision being discussed in the comments; the relative quality of the product itself, and the quality of the manufacturer and or seller of the product.

    I believe that both of these aspects should be at least equally considered when making buying decisions. The logic being (especially for organic or “green” marketed products), that if the manufacturer/seller is sincerely committed to certified organic production and sustainable methods, they will reflect these values in every aspect of their business, including their products, and how their products are manufactured, distributed, packaged, and sold. Even at the cost of lower profit margins.

    So when I see Scotts, Exxon, Chevron, Dow, Dupont, Monsanto, and other large chemical companies touting their commitment to healthier living and sustainable methods on commercials, but I know what the local environments surrounding their plants in Texas look like, I have a hard time believing that their commitment is a sincere one. I find it much more likely that any investment that they do make in more sustainable production methods and greener products is PR maketing, not a genuine commitment.

  9. Good catch, Carol. 😉

    Yes, I know this will make me as popular as Amy when she dissed the excesses of the Locavore movement; I just can’t help playing devil’s advocate here because I have a strong aversion to sweeping statements about good fertilizer companies vs. evil fertilizer companies. I’t just not that simple and tends to generate a horticultural witch hunt in the blogging world.

    I think a more hopeful overview includes the possibility that Scott’s will shift more toward organics (i.e. no more icky plants in Texas) and that smaller organic companies will grow to the point where they can sell more at a lower price.

    Price elasticity! That’s the term I was searching for:

  10. Hey Angela – we do agree about sweeping statements, generalities, and witch hunts. I don’t want to demonize chemical corporations, I just want them to be honest and responsible, and if they have to raise their prices to meet that objective, so be it. The long term cost to all of us if we do not start ‘paying the price’ now for our choices will be more than anyone can afford to pay.

    I would like to see a marketplace that has room for all sizes of businesses/farms/nurseries, and which assists green, sustainable businesses to remain competitive regardless of their size.

  11. I’m really liking the idea of an independent nursery cooperative? Is this already happening or am I just a genius? Har har.

    I think we want the same thing here, and I do feel for nursery owners like Trey who have to figure out how to survive with big boxes down the street. He seems to be doing all the right things, though, so I don’t think his shop will be one of the casualties.

    Trey? Nursery Co-Ops? Do they exist?

    By the way, all, did you know Terrain stores, Urban Outfitters’ new garden centers, will NOT be built from the ground up? They are buying up existing independents. Let the ranting begin!

  12. This reminds me in a way of the comments I heard when I initially went through Master Gardener training. “Oh, you’re taking part in a program sponsored by evil chemical and Ag companies.” While it’s true that there was a strong chemical-remedy-first mindset at one time, that is no longer true. Recent recertification training classes have focused on green roofs, native plants, naturescaping, and invasive plants, among other things. Why is this happening? I think it’s a reflection of what’s happening in the gardening world and of those involved in the program. If only those who thought alike participated, change is much less likely to occur, if at all.

    I’m a garden writer. I’m a member of GWA. I’m an organic gardener. I’m a proponent for change from within.

    Who I’d really like to hear from is Jeff Lowenfels, fellow GWA member and author of “Teaming with Microbes.” Your thoughts, Jeff?

  13. And to add another scary layer to all this…

    Smith & Hawken is now owned by Scott’s.

    The arc of S & H from start to its current state is an interesting subject for a good rant.

  14. Et tu Angela?

    Here I was just thinking the compost I made FOR FREE was a good option.

    But that’s my point really. Being truly organic if fact causes you to spend very little to no money at all. So why would ANY chemical company pay for any website or ads? They wouldn’t.

    A fool and his/her money are easily parted especially when they think it will change corporations greedy tactics.

  15. caliGardengirl,

    I envy you that your compost is “FREE” and that you produce enough to avoid ever having to buy compost and/or fertilizer.

    My only “free” compost consists of fancy organic food waste that my worms get to digest instead of me. When their little worm tummies are fattened, they nap on a bed of coir that I also buy. Yep, a fool and her money…

  16. Check your local paper for a decent nursery or stone/gravel supplier and ask if they have certified ORGANIC topsoil by the yard. One yard is 3 cubic feet; just got 4 delivered (less than $200) and I (truly) wish (plan) to lay naked on it!

    Scott’s is HORRIBLE – 2 yrs. ago I ordered 100 bags of organic soil. Guess what pulled up in a truck with two guys ready to unload? You bet – SCOTTS – – I refused delivery. It is sickening that GWA and NGA who SHOULD be EDUCATING people are selling their souls to CHEMICALS! How CAN they sleep?

  17. Barbara, a cubic yard of soil is 27 cubic feet of soil, or about 202.5 gallons not three.

    And why is no one ranting about “Fluff” as a potting soil ingredient? How did labeling laws allow shredded garbage; plastic, styrene, non-compostable trash etc. to be simply called “fluff”?

    Who would really want to grow tomatoes in ester and strychnine leaching “recycled” trash that is now being used in potting soil to replace forest waste (that is now being burned for energy by the lumber companies)… and I read that in a cheer article in a “professional nursery magazine” by a pro-writer, that thought it was a wonderful use of trash. But then Scott’s is the main advertiser in that magazine.

  18. Barbara, a cubic yard of soil is 27 cubic feet of soil, or about 202.5 gallons not three.

    And why is no one ranting about “Fluff” as a potting soil ingredient? How did labeling laws allow shredded garbage; plastic, styrene, non-compostable trash etc. to be simply called “fluff”?

    Who would really want to grow tomatoes in ester and strychnine leaching “recycled” trash that is now being used in potting soil to replace forest waste (that is now being burned for energy by the lumber companies)… and I read that in a cheer article in a “professional nursery magazine” by a pro-writer, that thought it was a wonderful use of trash. But then Scott’s is the main advertiser in that magazine.

  19. “But when I see a tiny box of organic fert. for $8, $10, $12 that might cover one flowerbed if I’m lucky, I think, “That’s too expensive.””

    Anything we have in small boxes, we can also get in large bags at a lower unit price. Most independent nurseries will special order.

    “I would love an economist’s view on how to promote organic products to the point where they are as inexpensive as synthetic ferts….”
    Not necessary. The price of the N component of synthetic fertilizers has gone up over 30%, according to one of my sales reps, and the P component has gone up over 20%. Demand for ethanol has caused the prices of synthetic nitrogen and phosphorous to skyrocket. Expect the discrepancy between organic and synthetic prices to narrow dramatically in the near future.

  20. Hi Don,

    Interesting about the increase in synthetic N & P prices because of ethanol demand. I also think the increase in gas prices is going to affect shipping fees on big ol’ bags of organic fert. Maybe I’ll have to curb my Peaceful Valley Farm Supply habit in the future…

    I hope not, though.

    But why don’t I have a place like PVFS a short bike ride from my house? Because I’m not magic, that’s why. And because getting our local nurseries to support sustainable gardening practices is like pulling teeth. I mean, not that it’s my job to convince them… they should have figured it out on their own. And they are… slooooooooooooowly.

    Greater Sac. is RIPE for an organic nursery that promotes native plants, River-Friendly gardening supplies and practices, uses 100% biodegradable nursery pots (no plastic), has active involvement in the community, promotes recycling of local waste products like rice hulls (compost, biodegradable containers), and sells great big bags of beautiful certified-organic fertilizer and compost.

    If I had been smart enough to major in business instead of stinkin’ horticulture, I’d probably have opened the place myself. Ah, hindsight…

    How about considering stocking the bigger bags of certified organic fertilizer at Redwood Barn for customers like me who have little interest in the itty bitty boxes with the big price. Having to special order one big bag for one customer seems like a hindrance and may incur added fees for you and your customers. Yes? No?

    I think it would be nifty if I could buy bulk organic fertilizer at a decent price at my neighborhood independents (Windmill, Talini’s, Capital on Sunrise, etc.)… or Redwood Barn, of course, if I’m ever in Davis…

    That would make the Scott’s/HD argument completely moot.

  21. “I also think the increase in gas prices is going to affect shipping fees on big ol’ bags of organic fert.”

    We have had fuel surcharges across the board from our wholesalers, but they are more evenly distributed on the product line than a 30%+ increase in the cost of a key ingredient. At my nursery, the price of a 2 cu. bag of steer manure has gone up $1 since 1981. Many of the organics are byproducts of other industries, and as such the core costs aren’t going to increase much.

    No, it doesn’t cost anything to special order one bag of something, at least not from the smaller wholesale distributors independent nurseries like to work with. That’s one of the reasons we like to deal with small, independent, family-owned wholesalers like E.B. Stone. We do keep the bigger bags in stock anyway. But the main point is: ask your local nursery to order and stock the things you want. Having direct access to the owner and buyer is one of the benefits of shopping at small businesses. Maybe they will, maybe not. I have certainly watched a big generational change in nurseries in the years I’ve been in business, and I think you’ll find the managers and staff share your values. I’ve gotten some excellent product line ideas from my customers over the years.

  22. Angela, as Don said, you should just ask your local independent nursery, my Berkeley customers asked us for bulk 50lb bags of Neem Seed Meal (a great slow release natural fertilizer that also seems to inhibit root mealy bugs and other pests, since there is still the residual Neem Oil after the seed has been crushed for oil extraction), Azomite and bigger bottles of Humic Acid, so we stock them, even if they are fairly slow sellers compared to the smaller sizes. And yes they are very competitively priced, since we use the Neem and Azomite in our cactus soil mix we buy a lot of it, so adding a couple more bags to our order wasn’t a big deal, just finding enough room to store it until it sold.

    It would be wonderful to switch to rice-hull pots instead of plastic gallons, but I have been trying to get them for over a year! Being a small, urban, independent nursery, where every square foot counts and costs the bottom line, we can’t order a 40 foot container load, when we really just need a couple of pallets (over 8000 pots per pallet). A couple of pallets is all I can use and store in a reasonable amount of time, at least without having to rent warehouse space. Rice-hull pots can’t be stored outside, exposed to sun and rain, they decompose just like they are suppose to. And so far the distributors that are pushing those cool “eco” rice-hull gallon pots never actually have them in stock, they just keep telling me if I want a full container they can get them… but not smaller orders. I am actually looking at getting them shipped direct from China, though landed cost for just a few pallets would be at least three to four times as expensive as plastic.

    I have been waiting over four months just to get a pallet of three and four-inch coir fiber pots that we grow our landscape succulents and California Natives in, they hold up better than the old style peat-pots and actually do let the roots grow right through the pot once it has been planted (and peat should really be left in the bogs sequestering carbon and providing wetlands habitat…). In this case our supplier consolidated their distribution warehouses and no longer stocks them… the other three west-coast wholesale distributors I have found that carry them, only have retail plastic-wrapped 6-packs, they do not stock “Grower Bulk-Pack Cases” so I am having to pay the freight down from Ontario, Canada just to get them. Unfortunately that more than doubles the cost of the pots.

    But by the end of this year I am still hoping to be plastic pot free in all of our in-house production: Terra Cotta, Rice-hull and coir pots only. Now if I can find a “Quality”, competitively priced organic potting soil that is peat free…

  23. Go Berkeley Hort! Conversion to biodegradable pots for all in-house production is no small feat.

    Off topic, but I’d be interested to know if there are IPM benefits to using the Neem Seed Meal. There were experiments in the 80s on systemic Azadirchtin uptake of dilute Neem Oil solutions for control of leaf miner and various other pesties.

    Guess I’ll have to look that up after I’ve passed yet another seasonal Irrigation Hell Week.

  24. This is too funny, Hap and Plantanista. I was in Berkeley on Friday, where I stopped by Cactus Jungle for the first time (GREAT nursery!) and also got a much-needed Berkeley Hort. fix!

    It is East Bay best nurseries (including Annie’s) that leave me a little disgusted with greater Sacramento’s.

    I do not include Trey’s obviously wonderful Golden Gecko in the foothills and Don’s charming and knowledgeable Redwood Barn in Davis… because they are both 40 or more minutes away by freeway. In other words, they’re great, but they’re not in my neighborhood… especially now that gas is about 4 bucks a gallon.

    If any egalitarian investors decide they want to open an organic, arty, fun nursery in Carmichael/Arden/East Sac… I want to work for you! I’m planted here because of family and roots, but my horticultural heart leans more toward Berkeley, Mendocino, and Santa Cruz. 😉

  25. Angela,

    You know, you could quietly sneak in and subversively revolutionize a small existing nursery from the inside. Look for an establishment that would allow you some freedom and work as a buyer.

    Gradually slip in more and more organic stuff, do some guerilla marketing (free speaking events for mother’s groups are primo territory for this), and see if you can show the owners that there is a growing demand for organics that are no necessarily produced by M**%@^to or Sñ00=+s.

  26. Good suggestion, Plantanista.

    I’m contemplating that possibility; it’s just that I in asking myself what I want to do with my life now that my son’s older, I had sort of an epiphany–

    I realized that as much as I want to put that slightly dusty hort. degree to work, I don’t want to work for a wholesale nursery whose laborers are forced to work with carcinogenic pesticides.

    Nor do I want to work at a retail nursery where little attention is paid to sustainable gardening… and sustainable nurserying (just made that word up), for that matter.

    I would love to find a partner or partners who have a head for business [bookkeeping… taxes… permits… (yawn)…filing… etc…] and who share my vision of what would be the super coolest and most environmentally friendly nursery in town.

    If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t… I’ll be free to pursue other passions. Life is too short to settle for the status quo. 😉

  27. To address Susan’s inquiry at the beginning: I’m a GWA member. I’m concerned about the potential for conflicts of interest, or even the appearance thereof, from corporate sponsors.

    I’m not so concerned with a puff piece like the teleconference (in which I had no interest to begin with). As a GWA member, I get all kinds of junk mail from all sorts of odd companies trying to entice me to write about them or their products. It all goes into the paper recycling bin.

    The acid test is whether or not GWA sponsors teleconferences, workshops, and so on that oppose Scotts’ or other sponsors’ interests. Disclosure is not enough.

    The only way to protect against conflicts of interest is to have clear policies in place BEFORE the money comes in, so sponsors know what they’re getting into. If they don’t like the terms, they don’t have to give. After the fact, organizations become dependent on the funding stream, and will silence themselves. At that point, the money doesn’t have to say anything; it’s already paid for itself.

  28. Unless I missed it, that little green & white USDA-Approved/OMRI label isn’t on any bag of Scotts Organic Choice Lawn Food I saw piled high the Big Box stores nor is it here: (Sorry for the huge picture).

    Also, Scott’s Miracle Gro Organic Choice (hah) All-Purpose Organic Plant Food (can they use the word “Organic” enough?) is listed as Restricted by OMRI and is anything BUT organic. From:

    “May be (i) applied to land used for a crop NOT intended for human consumption; (ii) incorporated into the soil not less than 120 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion has direct contact with the soil surface or soil particles; or (iii) incorporated into the soil not less than 90 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion does not have direct contact with the soil surface or soil particles.”

    Enough caveats there or what? I’m an organic gardener for nearly 25 years, and I wouldn’t touch that stuff w/a ten foot-synthetic pole.

    Don’t believe everything w/the word “organic” really is. Scotts is just one of many greedy chem companies jumping on the Organic Bandwagon to cash in on a burgeoning market of concerned consumers. They just hope those concerned consumers are also gullible and/or won’t read labels or do research. Consumer Ignorance = Big Profits. Don’t add to their bottom line. Don’t be fooled by Scotts or some part-time worker at Lowes who’ll assure you, “Oh, this stuff’s organic all right. Gee, after all…it says it right there on the label!” Yeah. Right.

    Just send them a “Best Wishes” greeting on the latest recall of two of their major products. (Google: “Scott’s Recall”). I know I’m tickled pink for their loss even though it’ll amount to chump change to them.

    I’m glad this blog is called “Garden Rant” because…I guess that’s what I’ve just done. 🙂

  29. I think the Snipes case supports the proposition that requiring a felony prosecution is a short- sighted strategy. Congress has made it a crime for the “willful failure to file return, supply information, or pay tax.” 7203. Again, while I don’t know the strengths of the case ex ante, I strongly suspect that prosecutors were locked into the mindset that they HAD to go for a felony conviction. Nothing “less” would do. A myopic focus on jail time misses the point of a criminal conviction: improved compliance by…

  30. Well, I’ve joined the ranks of the Banned, Banished and Blocked. Spent the better part of the morning doing some posting on the *ahem* Scotts Miracle Gro forums. Guess I must have hit a nerve because I was refused access after posting alternative information.

    Nothing confrontational. Just information and links that some people who posed concerned questions might not otherwise have been aware of. Certainly not information that would have been forthcoming from someone mentioned here in the initial post, KipatScotts.

    I had the nerve to inform that 2,4-D comprised 50% of Agent Orange and that maybe the woman who posed a question about whether she should let her daughter play on the lawn after application of it…that maybe, just maybe, she might want to read more about it. Also that, yes, Virginia, there IS a link between lymphoma in dogs and 2,4-D lawn fertilizers.

    Scotts was not a happy camper. Oh well, their loss. 🙂

  31. As a former employee of Scotts Lawn Service.I will tell you they lie about the products they promote they will use and will use lesco products and such like in place.After the recall they had for not registering products with E.P.A. and agreeing to sending letters to customers to land in the mail on a Friday they did a nation wide of turning of their phone systems so not to answer customers concerns.They consistently violate laws in making applications in the pouring rain because if the employees don’t they will be terminated.All of this probally has to be due to the fact all the upper management at Scotts Lawn Service are 85 % True Green Chem Lawn employees if that doesn’t explain it.

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