A great way to plant perennials “en masse”

North Creek Nurseries in Landenberg, PA is a marvelous, native-centric (but not exclusively native) nursery.  North Creek is a wholesale propagator (sells liners
to other nurseries for finishing).  But if you can meet the $300 minimum, they’d probably be happy to fill your order. 
They have, among the usual liner sizes, a very neat product – "Landscape Plugs." I’ve been wanting to try them for a while – our work with the backhoe this past summer cleared some nice large swathes of the cursed autumn olive, and made room for perennials.  I selected a number of locally-native species from North Creek’s extensive listings, with the plan to scatter them along the creek sides and sunny spots of our 4-acre field/meadow/thingy.

Primarily marketed for restoration and conservation projects, these"landscape plugs" are simply huge liners – great for anyone who wants a large number of a certain species without paying an arm and a leg.  Each 5" deep tray holds 32 plugs.  North Creek carries a wide array of Eastern N. American natives perennials, grasses, and ferns – mostly straight species with a few named cultivars.  I ordered eight different species for a total of 256 plants (and 256 holes to dig). The species I picked out ran from $1.08 to $1.40 per plug. They arrived within a few days via UPS, packed two trays per box, and all were intact and in good shape.  All were well-rooted, having been "stuck" the previous season and then overwintered/vernalized. I expect most will bloom this year. Will report back!

North Creek Nurseries landscape plug of Solidago shortii ‘Solar Cascade.’ Nice roots, no?

10 thoughts on “A great way to plant perennials “en masse””

  1. I’ve been specifying plug and bareroot perennials grown by North Creek and other companies for twenty years after getting burned one too many times having five quart and #1 container perennials – only to have them fall apart to reveal recently potted . . . . . plugs and bareroot liners! The cost of installing landscapes with plugs and bareroot material is sixty to seventy percent less expensive than with container-grown material – not to mention not having to deal with the disposal of hundreds/thousands of containers per project, as well as reduced wear and tear on installation crews, and increased installation speed as plugs are often planted with Christmas tree transplanting bars! This is an absolute slam-dunk no-brainer – not to mention using Missouri Gravel Beds from which bareroot perennials, shrubs and trees can be pulled for installation all summer long since 2007. In fact, one of our local landscape contractors using gravel beds has just designed and built himself a skidloader-mounted attachment to speed the harvest of bareroot materials from his beds!

  2. This is a common option in England for EVERYTHING – or at least it was the last time I was there or regularly trawling through their gardening magazines. Also, you could go to a garden centre – in fact a “nursery” and so actually producing some/much of what they sell – and buy large trays of small seedlings to be “pricked out” into pots for growing on yourself. Mail order is also very common, given England’s legendary postal service, and promoted in garden m
    agazines. Why has it taken North America so long to get with the program? Space? Car culture? The cars that people drive in England are MINISCULE compared to this continent and one could hardly get a half dozen 1 gal pots into the “boot” among all the other weekend shopping purchases. Picking up a dormant bareroot whip of a fruit tree and stuffing it into a tiny car (or carrying it home from the village nursery!!) early in the season is what is (was?) common, instead of buying the same whip 2 months later with 25+ lbs of whatever in a pot, with leaves and blossoms at their most vulnerable and often needing 2 people to wrangle and a large open-bed vehicle to transport. Mostly what I see in bigger pots available locally in garden centres is what Terry describes in his post, or what the GPs have talked about previously with regards to root circling and general torture of container-grown plants. Let the bareroot and plug revolution begin!

  3. We have been doing this for years. I think that this comes down to retailers wanting to sell more mature plant material at a higher price.

  4. Plugs are great for early season planting, but most garden center and landscape purchases are made long after plugs are practical. Once the sun shines and spring turns warm, perennials grow quite fast, and plugs become rootbound very quickly. Also, garden center customers demand larger plants, and often will not buy anything that’s not in bud or bloom. Practical doesn’t matter, they want immediate curb appeal.

    It should be acknowledged that the price Holly paid for these plants is a wholesale price, not the typical price paid for plants through mail order where a plug sized plant is often more expensive than a gallon sized plant at a garden center.

  5. We’ve been using plugs to plant prairie for the last eight years. We’ve put in over 10,000 plug so far. I’m in Madison, WI and we get ours from Country Road Greenhouses in northern Illinois. The owners, Larry and Sandy Creekmur, have been producing prairie plugs for 30 years. When we started, I had planned on using tree bars like Terry mentioned although with our soils that would have been heavy going. Larry suggested a heavy duty auger that fits in a drill to make the holes. I think it’s the 2″ diameter model which drills a hole just the right size for the plug. To plant where there is no ready source of power, We’ve used both corded drills with a generator and heavy duty cordless drills. One person walks along drilling holes and two people follow planting plugs. The system works great. We’ve found CRG’s plugs to be of the highest quality and we get almost instant prairie with this method.

  6. Thanks for all the terrific comments. I had forgotten to mention the “no tags/pile of pots” aspect – a definite plus. I personally use the “pryin’ bar” method for installation, but will dig out the bulb auger this weekend – great idea. And as Dave noted, this is wholesale (go in with some friends to meet the minimum!)I shudder to think what this would cost retail mail-order. I know many nurseries are growing some product in this size/configuration. Glad to hear the success stories!

  7. I think plugs are great ways to get (and plant) things with fibrous roots. I do NOT recommend them for woody-rooted species unless you want to do some serious cutting and spreading of said root systems.

  8. Yes, this is a very good way of marketing grasses & perennials. And you can split the cost with another gardener. I’ve been tempted for years…it’s only the work that keeps me from doing it!
    I have a catalog somewhere of an Herb company, maybe Nichols? that does the same thing with lavender, etc.,

  9. All of the nurseries that sell plugs explicitly state that they are WHOLESALE only. How do you guys get around that? I’m just a commoner who is trying to replant a bulldozed hillside and plugs would really fit the bill!~

    1. You don’t get around that; at least not typically. Wholesale Growers are commercial by nature. Their corporate personalities don’t blend well with homeowners. From accounting to loading freight on board, homeowners just don’t fit in a wholesale nursery. And, if wholesalers sell directly to the public, their clientele, the commercial installer, stops buying from them. The best you can do is strike a deal with a commercial guy based upon your volume needs. You simply don’t belong in a wholesale setting..

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