Scotts – Godzilla of the Gardening Biz


After this article was posted to the Garden Writers Listserv, a
lively discussion ensued in which the Forbes writer was criticized for
referring to soil as "dirt" and other missteps, and Scotts was declared to
be notoriously "unresponsive to press inqueries."  And there was some
of the behind-the-scenes gossip we’d expect from industry writers, like
the possible explanation that the wife of Scotts’s new president is an
"avid organic gardener."  (I get it – it’s the power of pillow talk!  I feel a ’50s flashback coming on.) 

Via Susan McCoy

All of which was timely for me since my chat yesterday with folks at a local environmentally responsible nursery.
The manager asked me did I use Roundup?  Sure, I say, for poison ivy. 
Okay, so how would I react if I heard they’d suddenly stopped
selling it?  Simple:  What else works?  And he told me about
products called Weed Attack and Burn-out, neither of which I can find
on the Internet.  Can a product actually exist nowadays without Google
knowing about it, I wonder? What’s up with that?  I was glad to hear that they sell a 20
percent concentration of vinegar, which a professional gardener buddy
of mine was just telling me is a terrific weedkiller. "Just don’t expect results with grocery-store vinegar," she warned.

And speaking of all things Roundup, Fine Gardening has a new article about it by a "landscape consultant and arborist" who, after telling us to use care in its application, confesses that "I coughed for 4 weeks after indiscriminate spraying with Roundup."  Oops.  I bet she gets rid of unwanted critters using the Dick Cheney scattershot method.  And I love this quote from the Material Safety Data Sheet, that spraying with Roundup is "practically non-toxic" to birds, honeybees and earthworms.  What an endorsement! The Fine Gardening writer complains that that language is "vague."  To say the least.  Who writes these data sheets, anyway?  Wikipedia failed to answer that one for me.  Anybody know?

For more fun with verbal trickery, check out what Scotts has to say about its social responsibility.  I was eager to read their position on "Green Lawns and a Healthy Environment" and disappointed to find there a rousing defense of turfgrass but exactly nothing – zip – about what’s best to use on it.  That would have been a Pulitzer-winning feat of writing.  Or whatever prizes they give out for achievements in corporate obfuscation.

Late-breaking news addendum:  New findings about dangers of Roundup published by Project Censored.  Scroll down to #13, passing on your way another topic we’ve looked at here – genetically engineered foods (#11).


  1. Scotts may have a problem jumping into the natural /organic market after all. I think the underlying problem for them will be authenticity. The article on “social responsibility” say’s it all. They don’t mention any of their products because any mention of using natural ingredients confuses their core customer base. If Scotts say’s use natural products then how would you explain to you customers why you still make synthetic fertilizers?

    The customers that frequent us have already been weaned off Scotts products. We made a choice early on to avoid products that appear in chain or box stores. Potential customers would ask if we carried Miracle-gro or Scotts Turf Builder. I am sure some people don’t buy fertilizer from us because we don’t have the mega brands, buts that’s o.k. since our sales of alternative products are just fine. My post “On being an independent nursery” spells out part of my independent garden center plan of action to differentiate yourself from the boxes.

    My target customer is smart enough to smell phonies a mile away. This is just like Home Depot saying they are going to spend $300 million to train their employees at better customer service. I thought they already improved customer service! The nursery trade magazines I read all say “beware, the boxes are going to improve customer service”. Why, because they say so? They throw money at it? It’s kind of fun seeing these monster companies trying to appeal to everyone. It mat work for the 70% of customers who shop the boxes and buy mega-brands, but the rest of us can see right through them.

  2. That is a PR problem for them – how to have an organic line which doesn’t point a big neon “poison” arrow at their current line. They may try the “premium” route. Another choice maybe start a spin-off subsidiary or buy one of these established green companies to establish the credibility.

  3. Gee, I would think that all your readers would applaud the addition of another line of organics. Does it have to be them against us? I don’t think so. Very interesting.

  4. The “big guys” thing is very interesting isn’t it. Last year I went to a seminar on “Green Tourism” where there were various speakers – notably a PR man for an airline and an owner of an eco bed and breakfast place. They were all there to explain how they were incorporating sustainability into their businesses. The B&B man talked about his recycling and his local sourcing; the airline man about switching lights off and trying to recycle glass bottles.
    The mood in the room was very pro the small scale B&B man and very anti the aircraft man.
    On a logical level however, the efforts being made by the air company – tiny as they may seem – were, because of the large size of the business, much more relevent on a “changing things” level than all the compost toileting of the 4 room B&B place.
    I admired him turning up to such a hostile audience and smiling through his presentation.
    Of course large business jumping on the bandwagon and swallowing up small business is different.

  5. On one hand I applaud that at least some monster company is creating an “organic” fert (even if it does contain chickenshit), on the other hand I question their intentions, because you know it’s just to capitalize on the green buzz. Does the end justify the means?

  6. MSDS are filled out by the manufacturer. Some form of hazard data sheet has been in use by chemical manufacturers since about 1906, but OSHA ruled in 1983 that MSDSs (either an official government form or some similar format) were required for all shipments of hazardous chemicals leaving the manufacturers work place and from all importers of such on all shipments by the end of 1985.

    And yes, Ginger, they’ve chosen to make it us against them. Google “Percy Schmeiser” or “terminator technology” and you’ll see why.

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