Jerry Kopel


Strolling through a large discount store, you notice a healthy looking house plant just right for the living room, and you buy it. Several days later, despite all your tender care, the plant dies. Your fault?

Probably not. Five years ago, in the very first Sunset Committee review of the Colorado Nursery Act, I discovered how often all of us had been sold bad plants.

Each store selling plants (nursery stock) to the public is supposed to be visited by a Department of Agriculture (DOA) inspector at least once a year on a random date. When the inspector finds a bad plant, a "stop-sales order" is attached, which means that plant cannot be sold. Nursery stock includes evergreens, shade, fruit, ornaments, shrubs, roses, vines, and turf.

While that store is visited only once a year, one has to assume the percentage of bad plants being sold would be about the same on any other non-investigative day.

From the 1990 Sunset report prepared by the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies (DORA): "Statistics provided by the Dept. of Agriculture concerning stop-sales orders indicate that a few of the larger sellers of nursery stock in Colorado accounted for a disproportionate number of stop-sales orders.

"Generally speaking, these sellers are large volume dealers of nursery stock as well as many other products and have multiple outlets. Therefore, they are distinguished from the traditional nursery which has only one, or few places of business and sells only nursery stock and related supplies and services."

DOA statistics showed that in 1988-89, eight stores accounted for 66 percent of the stop-sales orders issued (3,761 out of 5,656). They were Alco Discount, Home Club, K-Mart, King Soopers, Osco, Safeway, Sato's and WalMart. Of the eight, K-Mart accounted for 15 percent of the stop-sales issued (837) and WalMart accounted for 29 percent (1,643).

Our committee also learned the Agriculture Department did NOT advertise or publish the results of its inspections, so the general public received NO knowledge in relation to its buying habits. The committee amendment to correct the situation became law when the bill to continue nursery inspections passed in 1991:

"35-26-103 (4). On an annual basis, the (agriculture) commissioner shall make public the results of such inspections in order to inform the public as to the major sale sources of nursery stock found not to be of the quality permitted to be sold, and the location where such nursery stock was offered for sale."

Did the amendment work? DOA is releasing the information required by statute. But it would take TV, radio or newspapers a little work to turn the numbers into a story, and I haven't seen ANYONE doing it. So accompanying this column is a box on the major suppliers in Colorado and who has the best and worst percentages.

This year there were 710,414 nursery stock inspected, a 40 percent increase over 1989, but a major drop from the 885,250 inspected in 1994. There were 20,917 stop-sales orders, nearly FOUR TIMES more than in 1989, and a 66 percent increase over 1994.

The number of stop-sales orders in 1995 was close to three percent, which may appear to be an insignificant number until you realize it was the HIGHEST number in the past sixteen years, and more than double the number from fiscal 1994.

And what about K Mart and WalMart? The 1995 statistics show K-Mart and WalMart accounted for 53 percent of the stop-sales orders.

There is either more BAD nursery stock out there, or the DOA inspectors are doing a better job. In any event, as the accompanying box shows, the conclusion reached by the DORA researcher in 1990 still holds true. Your chances of getting bad nursery stock is greater at discount stores than at nurseries.

And your chances of getting much more bad nursery stock in the future is even greater if the Sunrise-Sunset committee bill on continuation of nursery inspection passes in the form approved recently by Legislative Council.

The bill would require nursery stock inspection at least twice each year instead of once, which is a constructive amendment. But the next paragraph states:

"Any nursery that only sells nursery stock that is grown within Colorado and does not export such stock outside of Colorado is exempt from the inspection requirements...." Since the purpose of inspection is in part to protect the consuming public, this language wipes out such protection.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of constituents out there who spend big money buying nursery stock. Is there a less expensive way for anyone running for legislative office in 1996 to gain the vote of plant lovers than to let them know which nursery stock sellers in or near your district have the best record in providing healthy plants?

You can get the list from DOA. And if you don't, maybe your opponent will.


Major Nursery Stock Sellers For Fiscal 1995

Stop Sales Orders/Nursery Stock Inspected = Percentage

Country General Strs


 16.6 percent

Wal Mart


 10.9 percent



 6 percent



 6 percent

Gibson's Discount Ctr


 3.7 percent

Waban dba Homebase


 1.8 percent



 1.6 percent

Target Stores


 1.4 percent

L&M Enterprises


 0.7 percent

Echter's Greenhouses


 0.4 percent

Fossil Creek Nursery


 0.3 percent

Rick's Gardens


 0 percent

Bookcliff Gardens


 0 percent

Planted Earth


 0 percent

Britton Tree Nursery


 0 percent

Paulino Gardens


 0 percent

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Copyright 2015 Jerry Kopel & David Kopel