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The $500 Plugflat & 2022 FAQs

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

To kick off 2023, here are the top 5 Frequently Asked Questions about our nursery, the story of the $500 plug flat, and new pricing information with an exclusive opportunity to order at the best prices!

1. Do you offer landscaping or design services?

Landscaping with native plants is new for a lot of people. It is only just catching on in the landscaping industry, at least in the U.P. I would love to offer this service, but we are a family native plant nursery business, meaning we grow and sell plants. Lots of plants. We are not staffed for design or landscaping services at this time. If you know of someone who would like to design native plant gardens for us, please let me know!

So how do you decide what to plant where? For a simple garden design option, try our pre-designed garden kits. They will give you a small bed's worth of plants laid out in the tray with the taller plants in the back and the shorter, showy plants front and center. You can select which kit best meets your soil or habitat needs. New this year: if one kit isn't enough plants for your space, you can get a second identical kit for 25% off for double the fun.

Native plant garden designs are also available on-line. Wild Ones is a good place to start. There are Wild Ones chapters in Escanaba and the Keweenaw (anyone want to start a Marquette chapter?), but you don't need to be a member to look at their garden designs.

If DIY doesn't interest you, I recommend Kim Melko at Plant Theory Landscaping, Kurt Dempsey at Greenstone Landscaping, and May Tsupros at Partridge Creek Farm. They all are local and skillfully work with native plants. As an alternative, some of the garden designers in the Native Plant Guild will work remotely, especially during the off season. However, I wouldn't let design issues slow you down. The important thing is that the plants are present in your space. If you plant now, you can get to know your plants and how they grow, see what likes your site, and get the birds and butterflies some much-needed resources. Plant now and adjust the layout later.

1a. Can you just stop by and take a look?

This is a corollary to the first question. I get it. It doesn't sound like much: could I just stop by your house on Lakewood Lane, Center Street, maybe out in Negaunee... take a look and recommend what should be planted. I get almost daily requests for this service all season long. I estimate that each of these visits would be an hour, not including drive time, and that's if I just made off-the-cuff verbal recommendations. Add a carefully researched and written email containing site-specific recommendations, and you are looking at hours more per site. Ironically, on the occasions when I have said I would be willing to stop by, but that there would be an hourly charge to cover my time and milage, no one has taken me up on it. I simply don't have time to be doing free site visits. Running a professional-scale native plant operation is BUSY!

2. Can I just stop by the nursery?

People make this request for various reasons. They want to shop in person, with the tactile experience of picking out plants. Or they want to talk, to describe their site and get recommendations. But we are not a retail greenhouse. The greenhouse is not staffed. There are no walk-in hours.

We are open for plant pickups by appointment only. Google may list open hours, but only so I don't get phone calls all night. I may be out collecting seed, running errands, or out of town at plant sales or otherwise, and my part-time employee does not work regular hours. I can't tell you how many times I have gotten calls from people sitting in my driveway who decided to just stop by while I happened to be at a plant sale 100 miles away. Please don't do this. I feel bad if you drove all that way, but we are not a retail greenhouse.

I completely understand that shopping for plants in person is a wonderful experience. Please do come to one of our plant sales listed on the What's Happening page! Plant sales and farmers markets are also a great time to chat about your site. I will have the best of what the nursery has to offer, in peak condition, laid out with informational labels for your shopping enjoyment at locations all over the U.P. this summer.

A great way to sneak in a site visit is to place an order. Shssh, don't tell, but every plant order comes with a free visit to the nursery. If you are already a customer and I am expecting you, I would be glad to take a few minutes to show you around or chat. Just ask. However, especially in peak season in May and June, plant pickups are also quite busy. If you want to talk for more than a couple of minutes, let me know and we can schedule your plant pickup for a less busy time. Note however, that the greenhouse is not laid out for retail sale, so it isn't a place where one can extensively shop. For in-person shopping, let me bring the plants to you! We will be at a variety of locations this summer. Keep checking back. I plan to be adding more dates in Manistique, Watersmeet, and Marquette.

3. Why are you priced the way you are?

Some people think we are expensive and wonder why. Some people think we are inexpensive and that it implies we are taking shortcuts.

a large tan, spotted butterfly on blooming milkweed
UP-specific subspecies of fritillary on UP milkweed

The people who think we are expensive may be used to getting plants from a local college who has a plant sale to get native plants out into the world. A noble goal. But they are not paying for their greenhouse, water, electricity, seed gathering, stratification time, growing supplies, marketing, administration, or staff with their profits. We need to cover those costs, make it worth the huge family sacrifice of time we put in, and hopefully have some left over to help our own kids attend college.

The other cheap source of native plants is backyard growers. Michigan law requires that growers selling perennials be state licensed and inspected for pests. Many backyard growers skip this step and the associated costs. We are fully licensed and inspected Michigan Nursery Grower. Another question to ask would be the source of their plants. It is easy to buy a few packets of seed from a nursery in southern Minnesota and grow it out, but are those the best-suited plants for the U.P.? We are careful to use only Michigan native species and genotypes, with U.P. genotypes whenever possible. That takes time and effort, but helps assure that our plants will survive in the U.P. and that they will flower and seed at the right time to fulfill their role in our unique habitat and climate.

For the people who say we are inexpensive, I say thanks for noticing that we try hard to keep prices reasonable. We really do want a diversity of native plants to wash over the U.P. until we have birds and native bees and butterflies and fireflies as thick in summer as snowflakes are in winter. We don't take shortcuts like buying non-Michigan genotype seed. We never dig and sell plants from the wild. We propagate almost entirely from seed that is legally and ethically gathered or grown by us or by Designs By Nature, LLC, in Laingsburg, MI. When we do propagate by division or cuttings, we do so from plants on our own property that we maintain for that purpose. We never decimate wild stocks of anything, not even seed. We want native plant communities to thrive from our activities.

4. Do you ship?

In 2022 we were so busy just filling local orders that I stopped offering shipping. It takes a _lot_ of time to package plants so they will arrive intact, shipping costs went through the roof, and we were hopping trying to catch up after a freezing cold spring. With the hopeful addition of a second employee, I am going to try shipping again, with a few caveats.

  • We will ship one plug flat or one garden kit, or one full tray of quarts (15 plants). These quantities fit efficiently in a box. Each box will be $50* for shipping and handling. We will not ship partial boxes. *Edited to adjust shipping rate. We really don't want to be a mail order nursery and if shipping becomes onerous we will discontinue.

  • Shipping is only available to the northern Great Lakes region, within the USA (sorry Canada). There are numerous regulations governing the shipping of live plants for each state. Also, after going through all the trouble of sourcing and raising plants suited to the U.P., it makes no sense to be shipping them to someplace like Washington state. Local genotypes are important. As much as we like sales, we encourage people to purchase local genotypes for their planting area.

  • Edited June 26, 2023. Shipping became burdensome and interfered with our ability to service our local clients. We will not be shipping for the foreseeable future. One exception would be plug flats. If you want single-species plug flats of something we have in abundance, we would consider shipping. Please email to inquire.

5. When will I get my plants?

And here we are at the number one question of 2022. The short answer is that we start putting plants out at the end of May. The exact date depends on the weather, what you ordered, and when you ordered it. We fill the orders in the order in which we receive them. Many, many people ordered plants in late May of 2022, expected to get them the following week, and let me hear about it when they weren't contacted for pickup immediately. Even if you order tomorrow, there are already a half dozen orders in my queue that we will try to fill on our first available pickup date. Order early. The first weeks of pickup dates will be full of people who order January through April.

Which date in May the first plants appear depends on the growing season. We will put plants out as soon as we can open the greenhouse sides and harden them up a bit. Even if you do your part and order early, delivery is subject to availability. Plants grow on their own schedule. Sometimes germination or growing conditions just don't favor a particular species and it is delayed. This year we have a lot of seedlings we overwintered, so hopefully we will be able to crank the plants out fast this spring without having to wait for new seedlings to come up to size. But the reason we overwintered so many seedlings brings me to the story of the $500 plug flat.

The $500 Plug Flat

Last May, faced with double the orders we expected, we were running out of absolutely everything. I had purchased enough soil, pots, seed trays, and plug flats to cover what we produced in the spring of 2021 plus some extra. I did not have enough to double production. A quick overview of our process: most seeds are started in wide, shallow seed trays, then seedlings are separated and put into plug flats. A plug flat is a plastic tray with indentations for each plant. Plug flats allow the plants to develop with adequate crown space and good root depth. If we have enough seedlings, we sell them by the plug flat, but usually plants are potted one more time into "quart" pots that are about 4" wide and 5" deep.

We managed to purchase more soil, seed trays, and quart pots, but there were no plug flats available. None.

My supplier would have more in September, but I needed them by June. I searched. What few I found were sold out and taking backorders. I finally found one site that had them in stock and gleefully ordered 6 cases, the amount listed as in-stock. We were saved!

A couple of weeks later a suspiciously light box showed up. It contained one plug flat.

a single plastic plant tray
The $500 Plug Flat

Not one case of plug flats. One, single, solitary, sad plug flat that would keep my nursery operation going for about 10 additional minutes. For this the company charged me $500+ because my order had "partially shipped." Round and round we went with them saying the rest would ship any day, but they never came. Finally the company admitted they were backordered approximately forever and provided a refund. I still have the $500 plug flat hanging on my greenhouse wall.

a field vole
Cute, but chews through plastic

So no plug flats. We would have to make do with what we had, plus a couple of cases we got from partner nursery Designs By Nature in Laingsburg, MI. That meant we could not take all of our seedlings out of seed trays. We had to pick and choose what we would bring up to size and many items were not potted up until fall. But the good news is that, with a little luck, and a little mercy from the voles who like to eat the bottoms out of the pots, we should have a head start on this year's growing season.

I'm sure many of you were also affected by such post-Covid supply chain issues. Even our little nursery is not immune. The other news-making issue that has caught up to us is inflation. Increases in the cost of soil, pots, fertilizer, and labor. Shipping costs for soil that were a nominal $100 in 2021 turned into $800 in freight charges for 2022. Consequently, we will be increasing prices on the website beginning February 19th. As a thank you for following our site, I wanted to give you an opportunity to get your orders in for whatever goodies you have stashed in your cart at last year's prices.

To help offset increased costs, we are offering a new pricing deal on garden kits. A single garden kit doesn't cover a lot of ground. Now you can get a second identical garden kit for 25% off. We will also offer sales in summer and fall, similar to what we did last year with Black-eyed Susans. In addition, watch for seedling flats on sale. We have shallow plug flats that we bought to help us get through the plug flat crisis. They are not great for long-term seedling growing. We will be putting excess seedlings into these and selling them quickly so they can get into the deep ground. This will be an economical way to get 38 of your favorite plants, but we will not start offering them until we see how sales and germination goes in the spring.

2022 was our second season in this native plant nursery journey, and it was a doozy. Apologies for not keeping up with the blog over the winter, but some rest and recuperation were definitely in order. Another blog post on Barren Strawberry will be right on the heels of this one, followed by a post on Liatris. Get your orders in for your favorites before the price increases on the 19th, and we hope to see you at the plant sales and markets this summer. We are ready and raring to go for 2023!

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