Online Only: Alternatives To Dumping Plants




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Don’t grit your teeth just yet. It’s certainly not the most pleasant thought if you’re a wholesale grower or a grower/retailer, but there’s no avoiding the fact something needs to be done with your excess plants once they’ve passed the sellable point.


Most times, the unsaleable are likely pitched into a dumpster, stacked onto a compost mountain or tossed into a plant pit somewhere outside your greenhouse. A plant’s life doesn’t have to end because it’s less than perfect, though. Sure, the plant lost its potential to make you a profit, but it still has value in somebody’s garden as a local donation or giveaway – and your good will could indirectly lead to profits later on.

Even if profits won’t be had, your donation is a great promotion of all your products and our entire industry. Just think of all the people who could view your plants in a public garden?

Questions For Your Accountant
Does your donation make you eligible for a tax write-off? Industry consultant Bill McCurry, chairman of McCurry Associates, says it’s highly unlikely because of the fair market value of your plants.

“The Internal Revenue Service allows deduction from income,” he says. “As a general rule, if you have not declared the income, then you cannot deduct. And there are few exceptions.”

So, before you race ahead and write off any donation, McCurry suggests approaching your accountant with these three questions that should deliver tell-all answers:

1. What are the circumstances in which I can declare the fair market value rather than my actual out of pocket costs?

2.  What are the record keeping requirements if circumstances do allow for a deduction at fair market value, and is a third-party appraisal necessary?

3. Am I better off taking a deduction as a marketing expense or as a charitable donation?

“What people want to do is say I may only have the seed and material cost in a plant, but they’ve already written off the labor because they expensed that as time went on,” McCurry says. “They still want to be able to declare the fair market value of it, but that is not looked at favorably by the IRS in most situations.”




“The best thing would be to take our plants and use them as plants and not turn them into mulch or compost,” says Alan Shapiro, owner of Grandiflora, a wholesale nursery in Gainesville, Fla. “When you see things are getting a little long in the tooth, wouldn’t it be better to have a list of organizations you could call?”

Getting Started
Over the years, Shapiro developed a list of organizations to which he donates. The list includes city, county and regional beautification boards, a botanical garden, parks, churches, schools, universities and charities like Habitat For Humanity, Ronald McDonald House and Hospice.

Shapiro didn’t develop the list overnight. He is, however, constantly asked to donate plants, so he figured it made sense to be proactive and set up a network for people to pick up plants that might otherwise become mulch or compost.


“I think all these little donations added together lift the human spirit,” Shapiro says. “It’s not a massive ‘wow’ thing. It’s just a lot of little things that enhance our quality of life.”

Patty Howe, community and public relations manager at Al’s Garden Center and Greenhouses in Oregon, takes the same approach as Shapiro in building a list or organizations willing to take unsaleable plants. Howe has cell phone numbers for everybody on her call list, and she asks each organization to pick up donations within a day or two. Most recipients are eager to comply.

“The good will of donating so far exceeds the option of dumping,” Howe says. “We have a call list, of community gardens, churches and schools around three of our stores, and we’ll share plants that are a little ‘too leggy’ to sell.”


Because Howe has developed close ties between Al’s and community organizations, most recipients are even willing to return pots for recycling. There’s also potential for publicity in a local newspaper or TV station, she says.


Hooked On A Feeling

For a wholesale grower like Grandiflora, the reward of donating excess or less-than-perfect plants is a good feeling because there’s no tax incentive. For a grower/retailer like Al’s, the reward is that feeling plus the potential of actual future business.


Every fall, Al’s grows about 50,000 poinsettias for the Christmas season. Last November, Al’s happened to grow a bumper crop of poinsettias because of fantastic fall weather in Oregon.

Al’s could have attempted to sell the extra 1,000 or so poinsettias that grew, but having budgeted about 50,000 for retail in past years, there was no guarantee the extras would sell at its garden centers. So, rather than push the extras at retail, Al’s decided to build some good will in the community by donating hundreds of poinsettias to Loaves & Fishes Centers that serve seniors with their Meals-On-Wheels program.

“Meals-On-Wheels had a distribution system already in place,” Howe says. “Al’s delivered poinsettias to three of the largest Meals-On-Wheels hubs, and their drivers took a hot lunch in one hand and a poinsettia in the other to more than 800 people in their homes.”

Before poinsettias were handed out, Howe sent a press release about the event to local media. Two TV stations made appearances for local news segments, and one of the stations featured Al’s as its feel-good story of the night to cap the broadcast. Howe says the news anchors even made a couple of unscripted comments at the end of the story saying what a great gesture Al’s donation was.

When To Abandon Ship
As rewarding as donations may be for both parties, growers don’t want to get in the habit of donating sellable plants. You’re in business to sell first, and giveaways should be looked at as a last, yet necessary, resort. Because the consumer’s buying habits rapidly change throughout the year, knowing when to give up is the key to making a profit and building good will.

“If you have pansies in mid-February in Florida, there’s a good chance you’re not going to sell them,” Shapiro says. “Pansies can go on blooming for several months, though, so you would be giving away something that will continue to bring pleasure somebody.

The same goes for begonias in June or poinsettias well into December: Why compost a plant that has potential in a public garden?

Donating obviously isn’t the first approach growers prefer to take, but if plants get to the point of no sale, there’s still the possibility of making impressions on potential customers. It only takes one leggy plant or a leftover Easter lily to make an impression. If you’re a grower/retailer, those impressions build your name. And even if you’re a wholesale grower, a donation could result in the beautification of your community or the start of a lifelong hobby for a rookie gardener.

"The donations go so far,” Howe says. “It’s honestly not that much of an effort and it goes a long way.”


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2 comments on “Online Only: Alternatives To Dumping Plants

  1. Al’s Garden Center has been a great help in donating over grown plants to the Connect Program, which helps drop – out students get their GED and gain Work Experience. We have used many of Al’s flowers in SOLV projects and in our community park that the program adobted for our soft skills work experience. The donations has helped our students not only make our park look great, but also our school!

  2. Al’s Garden Center has been a great help in donating over grown plants to the Connect Program, which helps drop – out students get their GED and gain Work Experience. We have used many of Al’s flowers in SOLV projects and in our community park that the program adobted for our soft skills work experience. The donations has helped our students not only make our park look great, but also our school!

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