Unseasonable Offerings from Bonnie Plants


Guest Post by Ginny Stibolt, the Transplanted Gardener Stibolt5

These days, with high food prices and concerns about healthful diets, many garden writers (including myself) have been encouraging folks to plant more vegetables.  We say it’s not too difficult if you have a sunny location and good soil. If you don’t have good soil, you can buy some.  If you don’t want to start seeds, there are lots of seedlings to purchase. So what’s my problem?

The other day I was at Home Depot and saw that the majority of the vegetable seedlings for sale there were Bonnie’s cool-weather crops.  It’s too late to plant those crops here in Northern Florida.

On the other hand, Home Depot also had some Bonnie’s tomatoes for sale several weeks before the danger of hard frost would pass, which is late March here.  So it's too early to plant them unless you know to cover them when a frost hits.

In the past, Home Depot has continued to offer tomatoes from Bonnie Plants throughout the hot summer months even though those tomato plants are doomed. Starting in July here, when the night-time lows are consistently above 70 degrees and most tomatoes stop setting fruit, Bonnie's and their dealers should stop selling the plants.

Curious, I looked at Bonnie’s website and here’s a quote on their “Find a Dealer” page

Bonnie Plant Farm does not grow all varieties of plants in all states. In order to deliver the finest quality plants, we have to grow only the varieties that grow best in each of our 68 growing locations across the Unites States.

Yes, the Bonnie growers can easily grow new cabbage and broccoli seedlings right now in Florida, but they should ship those seedlings north, because it’s too late to plant them here.  And what are the plant dealers thinking?  Doesn’t anyone care what happens once the plants leave the store?

Experienced gardeners will bypass these inappropriate choices, but beginning gardeners will probably assume that if plants are for sale now that they are safe to plant and will produce good yields.  They’ll be disappointed when their cabbage plants bolt before forming a head and when their new tomatoes are killed by a late frost.  My fear is that many new gardeners will give up on growing vegetables because they’ve wasted money, time and effort trying to grow plants in the wrong season.  I blame Bonnie Plants and their resellers for this result because of their regionally inappropriate and unseasonable offerings.

There are 12 Bonnie resellers within 15 miles of my zip code and probably this density is true in much of the country.  I worry about the size of this operation and their lack of regionally appropriate plant selections.  Oh yes, and as Susan Harris reminded me, it's Bonnie Plants that was blamed for a huge infestation of late blight in last year’s tomato crop.  Isn’t it time that we hold Bonnie's feet to the fire?? We should demand that they sell the right plant in the right place and at the right time.

To give Bonnie's some credit, though.  I love their third grade cabbage program. What a wonderful way to get kids interested in growing vegetables.  But… I hope they are not sending cabbage plants to Florida schools right now.

Invasives, too?
Home Depot was also selling nandina and Mexican petunia plants, which are on Florida’s Category I invasive plants list. I asked the sales clerks about the invasive plants and they promised they’d tell the manager.  Maybe they will, but I won’t hold my breath.  In the past, I’ve objected to their plant selection, but nothing has changed.  When they do offer natives, I buy them even if my need is marginal.  I know the dollar speaks.  But Home Depot’s selling invasives is a rant for another day.

Ginny Stibolt, the Transplanted Gardener, gardens in Jacksonville, Florida.


  1. I’ve experienced the same thing here in the Northeast (frost free date of May 15) tomato plants at home depot and lowe’s in April, definitely not going to work. Or they sit there for a month, neglected, that when they are purchased, they’re leggy, stressed out, etc. not much chance of great success. I worry too that this combined with a lot of the “it costs too much to have a veg. garden” media that was around last summer will discourage new gardeners.

  2. And and and the new pony packs (6 packs) of broc at the big box stores are really only a FOUR pack this year! Cheesey!

  3. It’s all about the money. He who shelves springtime bloomers first gets the $10 or $20 from the consumer’s wallet. They wouldn’t do it if it didn’t make somebody rich.

  4. As a former Home Depot associate, I can assure you that in my particular Home Depot, I spotted plants that were shipped to us that were on our invasives list and those plants never made it to the selling floor and the vendor took them back. Our store cared deeply about doing the right thing about invasives.

    As for the Bonnie Plants problem–well, you’re right. Beginning gardeners won’t know that their failure is not their fault. I’m not sure how we solve for that.

  5. On the topic of invasives – in Texas, Representative Jimmie Don Aycock (R-54) has introduced legislation (HB 338) that would require any “public entity” (Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas Master Gardeners, the LBJ Wildflower Center, etc.) distributing any list of invasive plants to include the following disclaimer: “THIS PLANT LIST IS ONLY A RECOMMENDATION AND HAS NO LEGAL EFFECT IN THE STATE OF TX. THE TX DEPT OF AGRICULTURE HAS SOLE AUTHORITY TO LABEL TERRESTRIAL PLANTS AS NOXIOUS OR INVASIVE.” Word on the street is that the Texas Nurserymen and Landscapers Association may have been behind the scenes in crafting this bill, to protect themselves when they install the invasives that places like Home Depot sell. I hope the bill dies in committee.

  6. Thank you! But I must confess that I not only saw the too-early tomatoes and peppers at Home Depot, I bought them. They were happy enough for the first few days in the ground and they are now residing under clotches/covers since it’s been cool (but not freezing!) the past few nights. I had some problems with my plants last year so I want to get as early a jump on the season as possible.

    It would be nice if the stores at least had signs near the plants saying “Remember to cover this if temperatures dip below [whatever degrees]”. Is that really so much to ask?

  7. great post, especially about the invasive selections, but I would argue that those that give up easily don’t make for good gardeners. What makes good gardeners is a steady stream of mistakes, and learning from them!

  8. That’s one of my gripes with big box stores. I was impressed that Karla’s HD pulled stock and sent it back. The blindness of the big box stores helps me maintain a “buy local” plan, as in NOLA, our climate is similar to Ginny’s in Florida (along with alkaline soil). Our planting is almost the reverse of the rest of the country. Now, to go put iron on the poor gardenia I planted when I first moved here as everyone has one.

  9. That late blight issue is exactly why I refuse to buy any Bonnie products anymore.

    @ Caroline – The TNLA is not alone in this, I’m sure. The Texas Apt Association supports this, too, w/their obnoxious landscaping practices.

  10. This is a great advertisement for shopping at your local garden center where they tend to have knowledgeable staff and sell what works right now.

    Our local garden center does sell Bonnie Plants, but is careful to only accept plants that can be grown right now.

  11. Hear, hear,that is the exact situation we are in with the wrong plants in the wrong season and Bonnie rules in the SC Lowcountry. I have given up speaking to the managers at the big boxes but continue, unsuccessfully I might add, to try and convince the feed and seeds and the few IGCs we have left to avoid Bonnie plants for your given reasons.

  12. It would be nice if the box stores posted a sign near all annuals
    saying “The average last frost date for this area is :_____”
    But some don’t care that much about taking care of their stock anyway, so why would they bother?

    Experienced gardeners know that you don’t gain anything by jumping the gun on planting dates, since a plant will gain on an earlier planted one if the soil has warmed up to where warm season plants like it.
    The box stores or bonnies don’t care to explain that.

  13. There is something to be said about personal responsibility and having the common sense to know when to ask questions when doing something you are unfamiliar with.
    It is fairly common knowledge that if you go to a Big Box store you most likely will not receive knowledgeable help, but the prices are cheap. If you chose to go to your local Independent Garden Center you will pay a bit more for the plant and you will receive knowledgeable assistance and service.
    Freedom of choice and open competition has value in our society, so does the ability to simply ask a question or walk to the book aisle.

  14. As another previous Depot employee I can tell you that our depot didn’t really seem care about anything. They contracted out ownership of all the plants so that the vendor was responsible for water and maintaining them. That vendor did all the ordering, without ever hearing what was requested at the store. They didn’t show up on a hot day, the plants fried. The only time the plants became Depot property was at the point of sale.

  15. I’m in the AZ mountains- cold winters, hot summers. Here, they basically sell the same as in the deserts. They consistently have warm season crops out way too early- we can’t put them out until at least early May, and maybe end of May depepnding on the weather that year.

  16. While I was on maternity leave from the independent garden center, where I worked 3 years ago, my replacement started ordering from Bonnie. What a miserable choice. I would call them to ask what varieties were available and they couldn’t/wouldn’t tell me. The main reason my temp. replacement chose them was they seemed cheap, since they offer a buyback consignment deal for unsold plants. The trucks would arrive and we were offered the leftovers from the big box. I shut that relationship down pretty quickly. I found them to be a horrible company to work with and was thrilled to go back to the growers I trusted, who knew and cared about what they were doing.

  17. Selling inappropriate plants goes beyond vegetables at our big box stores. They constantly have zone 7 and zone 8 woodies mixed in with hardy plants. I feel sorry for the people that buy that azalea only to have it croak the first winter. What a waste of time, energy, water, fertilizer, etc.

  18. I cast my vote on the side of personal responsibility. Before I knew anything about selection and timing, I planted tomatoes too early, planted other things too late, and learned the hard way. Now I do my research. I don’t expect the sales clerk at Kohl’s to tell me if a pair of pants looks good or bad. Why should I expect someone at Depot to be knowledgeable about plants?

  19. Sure it would be swell if all customers knew enough to turn their back on these plants when they are out of season. Those customers who don’t give up on gardening altogether will eventually figure it out.

    But if this blog is about anything, it seems to me, it is about those who DO know better helping others to figure it out.

    I don’t expect expert advice from a big box, but I don’t think it is asking too much for them to take responsibility for what they put on their shelves.

    They do this in the rest of the store, after all.

    You won’t find ice-melt in June, for example, so why do they stock tomatoes in February?

  20. In South Florida last week, I found BRUSSELS SPROUTS from Bonnie Plants at my Home Depot. There is no time of year that our climate provides the right duration of cold periods to allow the formation of edible sprouts. Plus they had cabbage and broccoli, way too late for them here. I am highly in favor of personal responsibility, but I think it is ranks in the level of false advertising for Bonnie to offer these plants in locations where they are pre-doomed. I don’t think the comparison with pants in an earlier comment is a valid one. Pants may look good or bad, whether you do your research or not, but they will still function as pants! Not so the out-of-place or season plants. People can be easily discouraged by failure, and in tight times like these, the investment into a vegetable garden may represent a substantial commitment. Bonnie needs to show a higher level of green responsibility

  21. Am actually surprised I didn’t see tomatoes last time I did my nursery rounds. But that was February. I bet if I go back today, at least a few standards will be stocked.

    My HD didn’t seem to care when I pointed to there scotch broom display & said it was invasive & that our state actually has a program to attempt to eradicate it. The clerk just shrugged. At least the DOT has stopped using it as a highway plant !

  22. I’ll have to research this more but I was just in HD and saw a sign saying that they guarantee all plant purchases for one year. So I can return plants that fail for up to one year. Who eats the money here? HD or the grower? I bet it’s the grower. And I know that if I buy something I haven’t researched and it fails, it’s on me! Like anything else in life, we must educate ourselves!

  23. Ginny, thank you for this wonderful post. To me, this is killing the golden goose to get the eggs.

    Yes, maybe Home Depot and Bonnie make a short-term buck. But at the cost of discouraging beginners who don’t know enough not to trust them. So instead of winning their business year after year, companies like this make beginners feel like asses…and encourage them to take up a different hobby.

  24. I agree great post. There are so many people that shop for plants at the big box store.
    Kousa dogwoods in NE WI-please give me a break!
    I do landscaping and so many of my clients are surprised that I don’t shop those stores.
    After explaining that the local independent nurseries and greenhouse are better and why some understand and some do not.
    If I ever see any invasive plants at any retailer I do point them out.
    If these stores would hire horticultural minded or degreed people I think long term their plant dept would save money and customers.
    I don’t know if HD has regional buyers or not.

  25. Okay, Rick is correct about the Mexican petunia’s being sterile. Today, I visited the same HD as two weeks ago and checked. But I’m a skeptic like the Jeff Goldblum character in Jurassic Park that Mother Nature always finds a way and that pollen could mix with populatiosn of the invasive type.

    And there were even more nadinas this week.

  26. Hi Ginny,

    Question…I live in Jax in 32207 zip code and Burpee’s lists our average last frost as Mid- February…is that because I live near the river?
    And great post on Bonnie’s. I agree but I don’t give up mentioning. I am looking into writing the regional office that orders the plants for both “big boxes”…and K-Mart also carries Bonnie’s.

    Hope to see you at Jacksonville Native Plant meeting 3/23.

  27. Hi Kitty,

    The average last frost date provides you a date when you have a 50% chance of frost. It’ll will go down from here on, but it’s still too early to be certain. Yes, those of us inland from the ocean have a later date.

    BTW, the fnps meeting is on 3/16 at Regency Square library. It’s on a Wednesday this month because of elections.

  28. Even in the local nurseries they often sell tomatoes early. The big difference being the knowledge level of the staff. I think its ok to buy your tomatoes early if you plan to pot them in gallon containers and store them in your green house. With summers like we have hear in Texas every bit counts…

  29. Just because department stores start selling swimwear in January doesn’t mean it’s warm enough to wear it. I know it isn’t a direct comaprison, because, of course, a bathing suit keeps until warm weather comes, unlike plants. But the bottom line here is why would anyone trust that what the big box stores put out for sale? Home Depot sells spring flowering bulbs in August, for pete’s sake.

    The answer is to get gardeners the information they need to make an informed decision in the face of commercialism. For example, instead of making this post all about complaining about the situation, why not throw in a few links to planting time tables from cooperative extensions around the country?

  30. A swimsuit may be necessary in Jan. if you’re heading to a warmer climate for a vacation and you could save it until summer–no problem. The point is that beginning gardeners will not necessarily do their homework and will wrongfully assume that since a store is selling a plant at that time, that it’s safe to plant it.

    Realistically, a beginning gardener is unlikely to even know that there is an extension service. But maybe the food bills creeping higher have plnated the idea that growing some of her own is a good idea. We need to create an environment where she has a chance for success. So when she sees those cabbage seedlings on the shelf, it is the right time to plant them.

    Responsible growers will stock vegetable seedlings at the proper time for the best growth in each region. It’s good business because then even even a rank beginner has a good chance of success. That beginner will then do more research to expand her efforts and purchase even more seedlings the next year.

  31. Why do people continue to shop for plants at a hardware store anyway. Support your local independent garden centers and build the loconomy by keeping your money in the community in which you live.
    A former independent garden center owner.

  32. I grow most of my veggie plants from seed but if I do go and buy I like going to smaller nurseries in my area. The have smaller plants with more per allotment for a cheaper price. Bonnie plants are too expensive.

  33. Remember it’s not just frost that will set those tomatoes back, but the soil temperature. If the soil has not warmed up enough for you to sit on it, and feel warmth on your behind it’s to early to plant.

  34. Steve, the other worry I have about the sterile Mex. petunia is that if people see them planted in your landscape there’s no way to know if they’re sterile and they’ll follow your example and put fertile plants in their yards.

Comments are closed.