Thursday, December 6, 2007

Repotting and Customer Service

Anthurium andraeanum 'Cotton Candy'

On a pretty regular basis, people will bring a plant in that they want repotted. This is, someday, going to make me insane, because a number of different scenarios unfold from this point, and they're all bad:

1) They want it repotted into a pot that's smaller than the one it's already in. This is rare, but it happens. I'm always a little baffled when people can't tell that a six-inch pot is smaller than an eight inch, and because I'm baffled, I never quite know how to explain it. "Well, um, but see, the problem we're having is that this is a little pot, and this is a big plant. Little pot, big plant. Little pot, big plant. See? So, um, maybe a bigger pot? Hmm?"

2) They want it repotted into a pot that's considerably bigger than the one it's already in. This happens fairly often, but it's easier to deal with, because I know that at least I'm dealing with someone who understands the concepts of bigger and smaller. A quick explanation about how you don't want to surround the root ball with a foot of thick, heavy, wet soil that will suffocate the roots, and people can usually move on, though once in a while people move on to something even bigger, or the same size, and then I have to say, no, come on, we're looking for smaller than this, and eventually I have to walk around with them, pointing to things that are the appropriate size and getting thumbs-up or -down from them until we settle on something. Your more difficult customers will, at this point, not be able to find anything that they like, and that leads into a whole different set of problems, but I'm learning not to take it personally when people can't be made happy.

3) They want it repotted into a pot of appropriate size, which doesn't have a drainage hole. The usual way this goes is, I explain about the importance of drainage holes at some length, and then they say no, that's still the pot I want and tell me to make it work anyway. So I try, and then (I'm guessing) they take it home and overwater it and it dies, just like I said it would.

4) As in 3), except that they take it home and it miraculously lives anyway, so then they decide that they're super-duper plant waterers who can keep everything in pots without drainage holes and get condescending and snotty with me when they want another plant potted without drainage and I tell them it's a bad idea.

Codiaeum variegatum

5) They want it repotted into a pot of appropriate size, with a drainage hole, but they talk to someone who isn't in the greenhouse about it, and the person they talk to leaves a sketchy note that leaves no indication of what they want done. Since the person who wrote the note is off for a couple days, this means we have to call the customer back and ask what they want. The customer, though, doesn't respond to their messages, or (apparently) even listen to them, so nothing happens for a long time, and the plant continues to sit around, and it dries out, and drops leaves, and by this point the person who wrote the original ticket for the repotting no longer remembers what the customer wanted, and then one day the customer comes in to pick up his/r plant and I have to explain to them that we had no idea what they wanted done, so nothing happened, and we left messages about this but none of them were returned. At which point the customer says, oh, I didn't even listen to the messages, I just saw that you'd called and assumed that this meant that stuff was ready to pick up, but it's fine because I've changed my mind about what I want done, and now I want it put together with these three other plants I've just brought in, into this pot which is too small and has no drainage hole.

6) They want it repotted but have absolutely no idea what they want beyond that point. I have to show them a blue pot in order to find out that they don't want a blue pot, I have to show them plastic to find out that they don't want plastic. They have no idea on price range, color, texture, shape, or anything else, and usually end up going with something that they had totally ruled out five minutes earlier.

It is actually a very rare occurrence that someone brings in a plant to repot that actually really needs to be repotted, and generally in those cases, it's not because the roots are that overgrown, it's that the soil has broken down and gone bricklike and needs to be removed before it kills the plant.

Dieffenbachia spp.

So. For best results, if you're the kind of person who might find him/rself paying someone else to repot a plant for you, please:

1) Buy a damn ruler or measuring tape and bring it with you. At the very least, memorize the length of your index finger, or the distance from the tip of your thumb to the tip of your pinkie, and do the math.
2) Confirm with somebody that the plant actually needs to be repotted before you start ordering people around.
3) Pick out the pot ahead of time. Make sure it has adequate drainage (a single hole for a 16-inch pot is probably not adequate). If you're not competent to pick out a pot on your own, that's fine, I'll help, but do try to have some idea of what you're looking for in terms of shape, material, color, etc. before we start, 'cause they do actually expect me to do other work sometimes, and I can't really hold your hand all morning.
4) Be nice about it. I can't believe this one actually needs to be said, but. If you are intent on treating me like an ignorant servant, kiss your plant buh-bye. I know a thousand ways to kill a plant that won't show up for months. You do not want to fuck with me.
5) We're probably going to have the plant done within a day or two. If you don't hear from us within that amount of time, call, because one of these three things is probably going on: A) we're really busy, and your plant hasn't been done yet, in which case no harm, no foul. B) Your plant is done, but you gave us the wrong number, or no number, and we can't reach you to tell you it's done. C) Your plant is not done, because some critical piece of information has been left out of the instructions and you're not returning the messages we've left you, so the whole thing is on hold until such time as we can talk to you and find out what you want to do.


Photo credits:

Anthurium: me.
Codiaeum: robin-elaine @
Dieffenbachia: karindalziel @

note: The pictures aren't meant to illustrate anything about repotting. I just figured people were more likely to read this if it had illustrations, even if the illustrations were unrelated.


Sheila said...

I really enjoyed this post! Especially #4. Isn't absolute power over a plant's life an awesome thing? ;)

Sheila said...

I meant #4 under the "for best results" part, but it's all good...

waterroots said...

I really enjoyed this post; thanks for adding a little humour in my day. I can just imagine some of the 'special' customers you have to deal with... At least you have a sense of humour about it!

mr_subjunctive said...

Wonderful Co-Worker had a guy drop off a Sansevieria yesterday that was in a pot roughly 12 inches high and 9 inches in diameter. He wanted it moved up into a 12-inch. She told him it really didn't need it, and I guess explained, and his answer was something like, hey, you can do it, or I can take my business elsewhere, take your pick. Asshole.

She couldn't do it at the time, because he came in just before she got off work, so I did it the next day, and -- the root ball was only about two inches thick; the rest of the soil was just sitting there, being wet. So it probably needed to be down-potted, if anything, and WCW was more right than she knew.

Sometimes you just want to take all these abused plants off to a farm somewhere, where they can run and frolic and belong to a nice family who will take care of them. Ack.

Sheila said...

Ever seen Animal Planet's show called "Animal Cops" or something like that? Maybe we need one about the Plant Police. We had a building manager buy a bunch of poinsettias to give to each of his tenants as Xmas gifts. I ran into him delivering them today, and told them to keep them nice and warm. He said, "Oh really? I left them in the van overnight. I thought they were cold weather plants." Double ack!