nursery warranties on purchased plants

rouge21_gw(5)March 7, 2013

In another current thread woodyoak wrote: I don't bother keeping receipts - even if there's a warranty, I figure that, if the plant died, it was most likely my fault for either planting something not suitable for where it was placed, or I neglected it! So I have never claimed on a warranty.

I save as many of my plant receipts as I can....actually only those that come with a warranty. And if a perennial plant dies and *if* I have that receipt I will often make a 'claim' (which is a more often than not a credit at the store in question). Now many of my purchases are with independent nurseries which understandably don't have such buyer insurance. For my more expensive purchases, especially trees, I will do all I can to find a source which will provide at least a 1 year calendar warranty. For example late this past fall I made the decision to buy an on sale but still expensive Japanese Maple which I did plant in *November*. For sure this purchase late in the season wouldn't have happened w/o the fall back warranty (in this case 2 years).

I frequent independents for plants which I could never find at box stores or at those very large nurseries.

(Those independents that do offer a warranty often will give you the option of taking 15% off the purchase price to pass on the warranty).

So I wonder how other GW members use or ignore the available warranty on purchased plants? Maybe you only take advantage of it for higher priced items such as trees?

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I don't worry about the warrenty - I buy plants that are marked down 90% of the time. If I do pay full price, I take the plant out of the pot and inspect it - if I don't see any problems, I buy it. If it dies, I feel fairly sure it was MY fault, not theirs.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 8:15PM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

I actually took a plant that had died back to Lowes once, mainly because I wanted to understand how well they stood by their warranty and ask a few questions about it. Come to find out, here anyway, they require the original nursery container and the dead plant, along with the receipt. I had them all, but seriously? I am supposed to save and label every container for a full year after planting the plant into the landscape in case I needed to take advantage of the money back promise?

I asked why they would need the container, and was told that it was to be sure that I had purchased that plant there. Isn't that what the receipt is for? Besides, how would they know this dead plant is the one purchased from Lowes?

Stupid. I don't respond well to stupid stuff. Honestly, I think the policy was a hoop. As in let's make them jump through hoops and not be pleasant about plant returns so no one wants to bother to get a refund. They want to tout their money back gaurantee so they sell more plants, but they don't really want anyone to return the dead plants.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 8:26PM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

I worked at a nursery last year and we had a return policy on all woodies if you bought soil/amendments with it. This subject got me a little hot and bothered at times I must admit.

If I had my own nursery I would not offer a return on plants unless there was a legitimate reason (no, your dog trampling the sumac doesn‘t count. No, your forgetting to water it doesn‘t count). You are not buying a pair of jeans or a toaster oven here- plants are living organisms. Once a plant leaves a nursery they should not be responsible, it is now up to the person buying to take care of it once it leaves the nursery grounds! It’s like buying a goldfish and forgetting to feed it and change the water and then going back to Petco and saying it died and you want a replacement. There is a certain amount of responsibility a person agrees to when they buy a living thing.

If you don’t know about a plant that’s why you ask (or for an experienced gardener, do your research beforehand). If the nursery staff are knowledgeable they will be able to tell you if a plant will work for your situation or not. It’s not a nurseries fault if you go and plant your Salvia in a boggy area. It’s not their fault if you plant a tree on bedrock.

It’s also not entirely a nurseries fault if a plant does not turn out to be fully hardy. Take for instance some of the newer Coreopsis cultivars out there. A nursery goes by what the wholesaler/hybridizer says. We act on good faith that what they are telling us is correct. There was only one instance where I knew of us getting credit for a batch of plants from a wholesaler...not sure if it is applicable for false hardiness rating at all (doubt it).

That also brings up the question of zone pushing and cold hardiness. If a nursery is upfront and lets the customer know a certain plant may not be fully hardy, do well in your climate/region, or be long lived, the buyer then takes up the risk if they choose to buy it.

I know that may seem harsh, but lenient return policies opens up too much room for those people who look to take advantage. I’m not saying everyone is like that, but there are those type out there (I know, I have a relation that is!). Most say that you have to do what you can to appease the customer so they will come back. But do you really want a customer that will take advantage like that? Not me. I don’t mean to sound hard or anything, but it killed me having to do returns on plants that were obviously killed by the customer from negligence.

There are totally legit reasons a nursery should honor a return, like say if the plant was diseased when purchased or not correctly labled (although that is hard to control too!! Like when customers don't put the tag back in the right plant ;-* ).

Totally agree with woodyoak. Many years ago when first starting out I might have done the return thing, but not now. I've only returned plants a couple times, not long after buying them because I just found out they woudn't work for me. They were returned in the same condition as when I bought them (one time even better, lol). Second time I did it was from ordering from HCG. The Scrophularia I got were dreadful looking and hardly more than barely rooted sticks. Otherwise I’ve always figured it was either my fault a plant died or wrote it off as lesson learned with regards to a certain genus or zone pushing. A botanical experiment if you will ;-D

Just my thoughts. Hope no one takes offence. It wasn't meant as any...

    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 9:59PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

CMK, I can see what you are saying. There is a garden center near me, and several years ago, when the big box stores starting moving in and offering the return policies, I was at this center and saw a sign that said: "If you buy a plant from us and it dies.... it's dead. No refunds."

And I can understand where with a living plant there are too many ways that the purchaser can do it in, at no fault of the nursery.

I have used Bluestone's return policy, but usually it was due to a shipping issue - plant was sitting in a hot warehouse or truck too long, etc., and it arrived in poor condition. If something dies a year after I purchase it, (whether it was mail order or locally purchased) I don't bother with a refund attempt. I figure it was most likely me.


    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 10:19PM
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Gyr_Falcon wrote:

They want to tout their money back guarantee so they sell more plants, but they don't really want anyone to return the dead plants.

'Gyr', your anecdote is so unlike what I experience with any of my returns. There has *never* been any questions asked provided one has the receipt.

The largest nursery chain in Ontario actively advertises its "No-Hassle Gurantee" (see link below).

(Although this same nursery (unintentionally?) does make it harder for the consumer to do a refund as for many of their plants the actual plant name does not show up on the paper receipt but instead a cryptic # ID. When this happens I immediately write on the slip the plant name.)

I am sure that unlike other merchandise, plant returns are a rarity mostly because purchasers don't think of keeping the receipt for such an item.

Here is a link that might be useful: Easy Guarantee

This post was edited by rouge21 on Fri, Mar 8, 13 at 7:32

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 7:24AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

I taken advantage of plant warranties when appropriate. I rarely need to return a plant (I don't have many things outright die on me), and I feel no guilt. The nurseries where I shop don't give me any hassle about it, but the return guidelines are very clearly stated on the receipt. The warranties differ nursery to nursery (e.g. one nursery has a one-year or June 30th of following year warranty on perennials while another's warrantly covers perennials through October of the same year), though.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 7:58AM
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christinmk wrote: we had a return policy on all woodies if you bought soil/amendments with it.

I am seeing this more and more at the independent operations. For example one nursery I know will guarantee their perennials for a full *3* years provided one has also purchased from them the soil enhancer MYKE (mycorrhizal fungi).

christinmk wrote: That also brings up the question of zone pushing and cold hardiness.

And I think some nurseries need to be more knowledgeable re such plants. Why would would they even sell 'tender' perennials which clearly do not agree with the hardiness zone of the purchasing patrons. The nursery is just asking for trouble stocking such plants.

This past summer I was surprised to see a display of Corydalis "Canary Feathers" at the nursery. It is at best semi hardy in zone 5. I raised this issue with the manager and he encouraged me make the purchase given the "no-hassle" guarantee! (Now if I can just remember where I planted it ;))

This post was edited by rouge21 on Fri, Mar 8, 13 at 14:03

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 8:04AM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

-Doug, we also did the MYKE along with the soil at one point (meaning you had to buy both). Can't say I agreed at all with the myke. And while it is great if people buy some compost/soil to help plants along, I hated doing it from the "if you don't your plant will surely not survive" angle.

"why would they even sell 'tender' perennials..."

Because gardeners like to zone push- because there is a demand.

If a person knows the plant a nursery is selling isn’t fully hardy or may not be suited for your climate (etc), they take on the risk when they buy it. I would feel bad if a person bought something, assumed it was hardy, and then it died on them because they didn’t take necessary precautions. But that is why a nursery should have savvy staff (or clear and accurate tags, or throw out the tags and make a good sign if the info is off on the tag) that can point that out to customers and suggest an alternative if they wanted something more reliable. If a customer doesn’t know, they should ask (or educate themselves beforehand).

Unfortunately, most people assume that if any store carries a plant it must be able to be planted outside in the ground. That is why you sometimes see folks planting calla lilies and florist cyclamen from the grocery in the ground when they clearly don't live in the zone for them! ;-)

I fully agree with you that some plant places need to educate their staff more on the plants they carry. I tried to educate myself on the plants we sold that I wasn't familiar with (trees and some shrubs- perennials are more of my "thang", lol). It was VERY difficult, especially since we ordered a LOT of things and I had zero control or knowledge of what was being brought in beforehand.

There are different “types” of nurseries too. Some specialize in natives, some carry only commoner stock more for the landscape projects. At those you may expect to find a bit more reliable and hardy plants. Then you have your nurseries that specialize in rare and unusual things. Unless a person is a total newbie gardener, they expect to find some marginal plants at these places, plants that require specialized care, or plants that may need protection or to even be brought inside during winter.

If I were to have my own nursery (can you see the unrealistic twinkle in my eyes when I say this?? Lol) I would specialize in the latter type. I can’t think of something so utterly boring as carrying ONLY “safe” and “tried and true” plants. I would have a good mixture of both!

What I am FIRMLY against is false representation of plant hardiness. I would rather be cautious with a rating and state "possibly hardy in zone such and such", like PDN does. Again, a lot of this rests on whe wholesaler/hybridizers claims.

Another reason a nursery may carry plants that are so-so in hardiness is because there can be a wide range of hardiness zones within one geographic location. While the new usda zone map only shows my region as having two zones (6a & 6b), I think there are probably a good deal of pockets that are definitely zone 5. If you go south of us a few hundred miles you will reach a belt that is (on the new zone map) listed as a z7a. All of this is only on the eastern side of WA state! Go over to western WA and you will run in to z 6-8 and even 9 (they list 9 on the new map, but for the life of me I can't tell where it is, LOL)! So for this reason some nurseries DO have to carry more diverse plant selections that may not be hardy for everybody.

Sorry…I kind of feel as if I’m being overly longwinded and hijacking your thread in some way Doug!! :-(

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 3:08PM
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gyr_falcon(Sunset 23 USDA 9)

rouge21, I don't consider Lowes garden centers to be a nursery really, and I certainly don't expect the same level of service as would be experienced at a nursery chain. It is nice you have a nursery chain that is nicer about the returns, and they also have my sympathy. I have seen consumers ask for refunds on annuals at the end of the season, because they died. Geesh! Those woody plants rules have a reason--the unreasonable customers!

Although, like I said, I don't bother returning dead plants beyond the 1-2 times I was checking out the policy. Because my garden is too small for my heart, the landscape plants get yanked, moved and experimented on way too much. I need someone nearby with a large empty lot to gow all of the things I've gotten tired of, or no longer fit the conditions. (for example, the neighbor wacked three mature trees, and my shade area is now burning hot sun in the summer)

Another tidbit I found odd about the box stores' returns, is changing your mind about live plants. I was told only 24 hours to return a live plant in as-purchased condition. Yet, if I kill it I can get a full refund up to a year later! How crazy is that? lol

This post was edited by Gyr_Falcon on Fri, Mar 8, 13 at 15:39

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 3:34PM
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No apology needed CMK! I do enjoy reading everyone's comments in this thread (and others). I learn lots. And it for sure helps pass the time until spring really arrives!

This post was edited by rouge21 on Fri, Mar 8, 13 at 16:16

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 3:57PM
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mxk3 wrote:I taken advantage of plant warranties when appropriate..

In my search to source plants I will take note of those nurseries which will warranty the expensive ones. For example as I had mentioned earlier in this thread it was important that the Japanese Maples I was to buy were backed by at least a one year guarantee. Of course if I can only find a plant at a nursery w/o a warranty program then no big deal. And much more often than not that is what happens..

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 4:13PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Christinmk, that's how I feel. I would never return a plant unless I noticed within a day or two that it had some kind of pest I didn't notice at the store. I'm less against a store credit, and would like to see the time period for this set at a month tops.

I'm against returning plants for any other reason, and of course there is some padding in the prices because of this ridiculousness, but probably just a negligible amount not worth protesting.

Returning a plant because I didn't keep it alive is like returning a car I wrecked because I didn't learn how to drive. What next? Allowing returns for plants eaten by deer and rabbits?

As far as new hybrids go... when we've got commercials on TV for medications that constantly end up being the target of class action lawsuits because they caused more harm than good and left dead people in their wake, I wouldn't take anything a store said seriously regarding ornamental plants, especially if the store starts with L, W, or H, bastions of misinformation. It would be madness to think they test new plants more thoroughly than medications, and more of the same to think all garden soils and locations in a same zone are always capable of supporting the same plants.

There's such a complicated relationship between elevation, exposure, drainage, temperature, hours of bright sunshine, proximity to heat-retaining material, or moisture-moderating mulches... it's really a mystery and a gamble and that's how I approach it. No guarantees existed when I started gardening, and I still enjoy checking every spring to see what's back. I expect losses and surprises occasionally. Even perennials die of natural causes sometimes.

I don't know how long new plants are "tried" before being sold to the public, but weather patterns can go for years with abnormally mild winters in places, then ZAP! You get a normal winter. An average winter, statistically, can have an occasional period of "unusual cold" that damages marginally hardy plants, once per decade or so. Bougainvillea and Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus) is hardly ever indicated to be hardy here, but it's still alive since '09 and '10. Caladiums are supposed to rot but I have many such bulbs that keep showing up. Cane Begonias as well, and some Perilla. I wasn't relying on this, though, there are more of the same inside.

If it makes people happy to have and sometimes use that guarantee, more power to you! And having an unused guarantee won't hurt anyone. Like I said, none of this is worth any uptick in blood pressure, but does make for an interesting discussion. I enjoyed all of the comments.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 4:21PM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

I don't think I've ever acted on a warranty (not counting mailorder), in fact I don't even know if my favorite nursery has one! But I do know last summer I was in there buying some more un-needed plants and I just happened to mentioned something about my last purchase. I told the cashier how I thought they didn't take 50% off a shrub I bought on sale a couple weeks prior. She asked me a few questions about what I bought, spoke to another person there, and then took about $15 off my purchase. No receipt, no real complaining on my part (I was going to get the other stuff anyway).... I thought that was worth more than any guarantee. I almost didn't even mention it since I felt a little stupid for not noticing when the bill was rung up... but I think there were some elephant ears on sale and that distracted me.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 11:01PM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

The big box stores are not nurseries and they don't grow anything. Some will hire at least one certified nursery person to run the plant department. They all have agreements with the nurseries that sell to them, to cover the cost of their guarantees. Which is why they are so apparently generous with their return plant policy. Al

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 10:16AM
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I seldom have requested replacements of plants bought from mail-order nurseries. Once a few years ago I was sent a couple of small and clearly ailing/damaged plants, e-mailed a photo of them and was dispatched healthy replacements. On another occasion a flat of mid-summer replacement annuals (ornamental peppers) started mysteriously wilting and displaying blotchy leaves from some sort of disease. I brought in my receipt to the nursery and they gave me a credit for the purchase. This is how responsible garden centers/nurseries act.

It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with return/replacement policies before buying. A place with a sign that says "no replacements/refunds no matter what" is being upfront, but I'd also be loath to buy from them. Any mail-order outfit that requires you to send back a dead plant or packing label is in my view trying to discourage customers who've been sent bad stock, and constitutes sleazy if not crooked behavior. The firm should always have a written or computer record of your purchase and the customer should have the benefit of the doubt (at least on the first occasion there are reported problems).

Check a certain mail-order nursery ratings website for tales of woe regarding low-rated companies that pull this sort of stunt repeatedly.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 1:22PM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

I have never returned a plant. Like Woody, I figure it is usually my fault.

As to receipts, I keep all my perennial and tree/shrub receipts. Not for possible return, but because if we ever sell, those can be deducted (or rather, added to costs put into the house) and lower any capital gains taxes. At least, I think that is still allowable.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 1:26PM
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kimka(Zone 6B)

I also figure most of the time if a plant dies, it is my fault because I usually try to buy from reputable sources. I have on occasion called a mail order nursery when something arrives in bad shape. The nurseries I usually deal with have great customer service (cause I won't buy a second time from one that doesn't) and are apologetic and replace a plant that arrives not looking up to snuff.

The one exception is if I buy a plant near the end of the season from a local nursery that I am suspicious about but am assured it is fine. Last fall, I bought an expensive (for me anyway) tiger eye sumac. It was already dormant (or dead) and I really wanted one. The nursery assured me it was not only fine but carried a warranty. I've very carefully tucked the warranty and receipt away and if it doesn't leaf out this spring, back it will go for replacement or refund.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 9:05AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

It is OK to kill a few plants. The learning process requires pushing the envelope to see what your plants will tolerate. Nothing teaches as fast as failure. Al

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 9:54AM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

Why are you guys so quick to assume it's your fault if a plant dies? A lot (well, probably a majority) of the time it likely is the gardener's fault the plant died, but not always.

Unless it's some super-duper never again will I find this at this price even if I live to be 100 type of deal, I WILL NOT buy shrubbery/trees from a nursery that does not offer at least a one-year warranty on those items, trees and shrubs are too expensive to not have backed with a warranty (I have neither the patience or the desire to fiddle with starter sticks, I want good-sized trees and shrubs to start, and that costs money...). Like I said, I have taken advantage of plant warranties when it has been appropriate (which has not been very often) and I feel absolutely no guilt whatsoever about doing so.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 3:36PM
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mxk3 you echo what I have said throughout this thread. Most notably we are in complete agreement with respect to your reference to a tree/shrub warranty which of course is built into the price of the plant.

Maybe some of you assume that because I have made use of a plant guarantee in the past, I do it lots. But no this is not the case.

This post was edited by rouge21 on Sat, Mar 16, 13 at 16:25

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 4:11PM
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If a plant is healthy when I receive it, it is mine to thrive or die. I would never expect a vendor to replace something that was perfectly healthy when shipped. That is just wrong.

However ---- I ordered and received many bare-root peonies in the late fall and planted them. I have no idea what condition some were in since some didn't have eyes. Out of 13, only two sent up leaves and we had an early frost so if they don't come up this spring, I plan to complain.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 5:40PM
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Let me present a somewhat different viewpoint :-)

I've worked in the nursery industry for several decades. Every retail nursery I've worked for had a 12 month return/warranty/guarantee policy but only on woody plants - trees and shrubs. Never perennials, annuals or houseplants. And other than producing a receipt (or verifying our customer database) to ensure the plant was in fact purchased at that nursery and bringing back the dead plant (or a photo if too large to remove and return), we never hesitated to refund or credit the customer regardless of the reason.

Why? Because the actual volume of returns experienced by nurseries adopting this type of policy is less than 2% of total sales........IOW, a drop in the bucket in the larger scheme of things :-) And by adopting such a policiy the retail establishment gains far more in customer goodwill than it loses in refunded returns.

FWIW, the vast majority of returns tend to be customer's fault (don't beat me up - it's true!!)with improper watering the number one cause. Next on the list is improper planting or just unsuitable planting. My current nursery does not warranty certain borderline hardy plants so they are excluded but sold with a warning that they may not be fully hardy. Buyer beware!! And there are limits -- if our records indicate we have refunded the same plant previously, we will usually refund again but with the firm caveat that next time it's theirs for keeps!!

Since I do not buy mail order I really can't speak to their policies but I'd have a very hard time personally expecting anything bare root to be warranteed. It is just a very risky way of presenting and shipping plants under the best of conditions.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 6:13PM
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