It's tempting, and it happens far too often. No, I'm not talking about eating double-decker ice-cream cones but about buying plants that need to be shipped from a long distance.
Many of us do not know the origin of plants we buy. I hope I can help you see why it is wise to buy things raised locally, as well as getting gardening advice that applies to the Rogue Valley and not to some other area with a far different climate.
Plants that are grown here are accustomed to local soil and growing conditions. That makes them more adaptable to life in your yard than if they had been grown in Georgia, Southern California or on the East Coast.
When you purchase locally grown plants, you are supporting local nurseries and farmers. This helps them stay in business, and the money you pay them is much more likely to stay here. Also, if farmers can stay in business and use their land in a profitable way, it helps prevent urban sprawl.
If you have visited a gas pump lately, you know that fuel costs keep going up. Buying locally helps keep the cost of plants down, as they don't have to be shipped across the country. John Jevons, internationally known speaker and developer of bio-intensive farming methods, says that getting one calorie of strawberry from Watsonville, Calif., to New York City uses 435 calories in transportation alone. Calories, remember, are a measure of energy. The same idea applies whether you are transporting food or plants. Why pay extra to have something shipped if you can buy it locally?
Local plants are fresher. Local farmers and nurseries can time the maturity and release their plants to market to more exactly meet local demand and conditions. Big-box stores must order months in advance, and when their ship date arrives, the plants arrive whether or not the local weather is ready for them.
The risk of introducing foreign bugs and diseases is greater if plants come from far away. A local plant producer is much more likely to see a problem developing in its early stages and take steps to control it than is a wholesaler churning out hundreds of thousands of plants.
Local growers are a great source of plant knowledge. You can visit your local tree nursery, for example, and get help in picking out just the right tree for your needs. This also gives you a chance to look around the nursery and see what is thriving.
The Internet can be a great resource for answering garden questions if — that's a big IF — you are looking at the right website. When gathering information, be sure it is from a science-based source that's close to home. Check to see if your source is from a university or other unbiased, reliable place, such as extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening. Many websites exist mainly to sell you something, and are neither science-based nor unbiased.
If you consult books or magazines for ideas and help, be sure they, too, are talking about climates that are like the Rogue Valley. Check to see where the book or magazine was published. I strongly recommend you buy "Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley" at your local nursery or at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center. One volume of the guide focuses on vegetables and berries and the other on landscape plants.
Coming up: The Master Gardener Spring Garden Fair, on May 4-5, at The Expo in Central Point, will be full of locally grown plants.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.