About RCE Plants
All gardeners have experienced the heartbreak of watching helplessly as new plants wither and die in their landscape. The potential list of reasons for failure is long; but it starts with the initial quality of the plant and how it was treated in the nursery.
All nurseries want to sell plants that “look” good. But sometimes the methods used to achieve that goal produce an inferior plant with reduced chances for survival in the real world. First, many nurseries use artificial soils that are very “light” which makes it easy for the roots to grow. As a result, the plants need to be watered frequently; the plants are not exposed to “living soil” with its diversity of microorganisms; and the roots never have to work at pushing through heavy soils. Second, the plants are often provided with a steady dose of synthetic fertilizers to stimulate lots of green growth and blooms to look attractive. In some cases, the plants are provided minimal exposure to rain and wind as well. Then the poor, unsuspecting gardener takes the naïve, chemically-addicted plant home and puts it in a hole in the ground. Good luck!!
By contrast, Reedy Creek Environmental uses local soil to nurture its plants. Our pots are “heavy” because the soil contains a combination of clay, silt, sand, and organic material which holds more water than typical potting soils. In addition, it is anticipated that the soil harbors a typical community of microorganisms. Only organic fertilizers such as compost are used sparingly to amend soils as needed to maintain healthy plants. And all plants are grown outside exposed to the prevailing weather year-round. The only exception is the occasional, short-term use of a cold-frame when winter temperatures threaten to kill plants that are vulnerable while in pots. In short, RCE plants are grown under the most natural conditions possible to avoid unnecessary shocks when plants are placed in their new homes. You would not raise a child in a bubble and then drop them off in Shockoe Bottom – why would you do the equivalent with a plant?
Size Matters – Plant Small and Grow Some Patience
Another common reason for the failure of nursery-grown specimens is that plants can become “potbound” and develop “circling” or “girdling” roots. This problem can be especially fatal for trees; but the symptoms often don’t appear for several years. Ultimately, the property owner is left with a dead tree that may have been very expensive and is no longer under warranty. Worse yet, the property owner may blame herself for the fatality that was the result of poor nursery practices and conclude that she has a “brown” thumb.
While there are planting practices that can help overcome plants with girdling roots (https://richmondtreestewards.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/stem-girdling-roots1.pdf), the best solution is to buy a plant without the problem. Start by fighting the temptation to buy the largest plant available. The larger the plant, the longer it has been confined in pots and the more likely it has become potbound with circling roots. Also, larger plants cost more and require frequent watering to become established. It takes a lot of water to maintain all that foliage on a larger plant. Why spend your time watering plants when you could be the one enjoying a cool drink on a hot day?
The RCE philosophy is that small is better. Establishing a plant in its permanent home as early as possible minimizes maintenance and maximizes success. In addition, it allows RCE to sell plants for a reasonable price that will require less watering to get established. In exchange, your part of the bargain is to develop patience. Instead of demanding an instant landscape or instant shade tree, enjoy the process of watching your plants grow up. For perennials and grasses, small RCE plants will catch up by the second growing season. For trees and shrubs, it may take a little longer depending on the species.
For most plants, the RCE goal is to sell plants by the end of their first growing season before there is an opportunity to become potbound. The one exception is slower growing trees such as some hickories and oaks.