What You Have There is an Ex-Plant

We’re all gonna die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

– Bart Simpson

It was rainy on Sunday, so I decided to run some errands. I took this plant with me because I thought a drive might make it feel better.


This is a Hetz Midget arborvitae that I put in last spring, along with six of its friends. The others are fine, and I don’t know what the problem was with this one. So I returned it, 354 days after purchase.

Many of the big box stores and most nurseries have guarantees on perennials, shrubs, and trees that are hardy in the local area. The receipt or the plant tag should indicate whether a plant is guaranteed, but ask about the policy if you aren’t sure. The guarantee is usually (but not always) for a year.

If I know that I did something wrong that killed a plant, I figure that’s on me. I’ll only return one that died inexplicably. But it’s worth noting that the return clerk probably won’t care one way or another, especially at a big box store. (I did once receive a short lesson in fertilizing technique at a nursery return desk, though.)

Yeah, dirt from Honeybear Gulch. That'll do it.

Yeah, soil from Honeybear Gulch. That’ll do it.

If you want to return a deceased plant, you’ll probably need all of the following things:

  1. The plant itself — heard of proof of life? This is the opposite.
  2. The pot it came in, with stickers or bar codes intact.
  3. The receipt (of course).
  4. Any hanging tags that came with the plant.

When I buy guaranteed plants, I stack the pots on a shelf in the garage with the hanging tags inside, and I file the receipt. If it croaks for no good reason, I can pull everything together quickly.


Note that mail-order nurseries often have a guarantee that does not require any proof other than your word (and some information about the purchase from your order confirmation email). Most such places mainly sell unkillables, though, so requesting a refund should be a rare event.

It’s still a minor walk of shame hauling a dead plant in for return, but the store wouldn’t offer a policy it could not commercially handle. Just square your shoulders, look the clerk right in the eye and say, “I WANT TO RETURN THIS DEAD PLANT, PLEASE.” Think of it as a character-building exercise.

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