This post isn’t meant to get in to the ethics or morals (or lack thereof) of big-box stores. It’s just an observation from a recent perusal of my local Wal-Mart’s Garden Center, and a caution to new (and experienced) gardeners.

We were nearly out of toothpaste and sunscreen, so yesterday I decided to run to Wal-Mart to pick them up. As I got out of the car I noticed the big outdoor section of the Garden Center, and as I’ve been busy dreaming up the landscape for our soon-to-be new home, I decided I’d walk through for a bit of inspiration.

On the second table of plants I looked at, (the first held some saddish looking roses, so I didn’t spend much time there) I found three that caught my eye. Not because they were flowering and beautiful (though one did have flowers), but because they seemed rather out of place.

The first was heather (Erica vulgaris). A small, kind of scrubby looking plant, but touted to be a great plant for tough sites with cute little flowers in the spring. That sounds all well and good, until you turn the label over and see this:

heather label

Notice that second bullet point? “I prefer acidic, fertile but well-drained soil…” Utah known to have alkaline soils; the opposite of acidic. Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t successfully grow Heather here, but it would definitely take more work than is implied on the label.

The next was an azalea (Azalea sp). Beautiful plants, but not something I think of when I think of Utah landscapes. It fits better in Seattle, or a similar environment. The Azalea label was very similar to the Heather:

azalea label

See that second bullet point again? “I do best in slightly acidic, organic-rich soil…” Once again, not impossible, but one that could definitely be a struggle.

As I looked up from the azalea, I noticed some yellow pea-shaped flowers, and I thought to myself, “No. That can’t be. Could it?”  I came around to the other side of the table, and unfortunately it was what I thought it was (or at least very close): a broom. The reason for my surprise? Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) was recently included on the Utah Noxious Weed List. Now, this particular “Flowering Broom” is Cytisus x praecox.

flowering broom flowering broom label

That x indicates that it is a hybrid, which gave me hope that maybe this particular broom wouldn’t have the potential to spread into unwanted areas. I had that hope until I was reading a description of it on the Monrovia website where it states that one of its attributes is that “it fits into wild landscapes where it naturalizes”. If it naturalizes – reseeds or otherwise propagates itself to spread – in your yard, it is also likely to naturalize outside of it. Not a problem if you live in a dense urban environment, but very much a problem if you live near the foothills of Utah’s mountains. Or if you live in many other areas of the western United States – Scotch broom is also on the noxious weed lists for Idaho, Washington, California, Oregon, and Hawaii.

Besides the questionable choice of selling a plant that is closely related to a noxious weed, I think that nothing so quickly quashes the enthusiasm of a new gardener as the disappointment of a failed planting. Obviously I suggest that people know and understand what hardiness zone they garden in, and that they should get a soil test to see whether they have an acidic (low pH) or alkaline (high pH) soil. But this is also another lesson in reading labels: just because it is being sold in your town doesn’t make it the right plant for the right place.