Sooner Plant farm does booming business online, over mail
Brian Chojnacki started Sooner Plant Farm in Park Hill with his father-in-law, Ivan Fuson, in 1999. Although local gardeners may not know about it, Sooner Plant Farm is highly regarded across the country as a high-quality mail order plant supplier.
"We shipped to 48 states last year," Chojnacki said. "Our Internet business has grown faster than our expectations and we are well known for the quality of our plants as well as our customer service."
Unique to mail order companies, Sooner's Garden Clubs offer a variety of discounts. The basic, while not required for purchases, Sooner Gold members receive a 20 percent discount and basic membership provides an automatic 10 percent discount. Basic membership is $9.95 and gold is $29.95 per year.There also are discounts for early season purchases, and multi-plant discounts when more than one of a plant is ordered. Members receive an e-mail newsletter and a potted 2-year-old Japanese Red Maple tree with their first order.Chojnacki's Web site, http://www.soonerpantfarm.com/, has a detailed plant selector drop down menu with helpful lists including: Oklahoma Proven, Biltmore Horticultural Selections, Proven Winners and Texas Superstar. Each item has a plant photo, description, hardiness zones, price and other useful information, perfect for finding just the right plant for a problem area.
Northeast Oklahoma is USDA cold zone seven. Since most of the plants Chojnacki offers are Oklahoma grown, their survival chances are greater than those grown in Oregon or New York. Sooner's plant inventory includes 964-varieties of perennials, trees and shrubs.
Chojnacki said everything they ship is at least 2 years old."We grow around 500 varieties here," Chojnacki said. "That includes 100 trees, 300 perennials and 150 shrubs. We get our root stock from all over the country from nurseries that do not sell to the public. All our plants are from the U.S."Some of the sure-to-be-popular items available from Sooner this year include 21 varieties of cone flowers, Coral Bells Heuchera, Kaleidescope Abelia, Coral Bark Japanese Maple, 15 varieties of Encore Azaleas, 5-gallon Oklahoma Red Bud trees, Baptesia, Plumbago and Desert Willow.
Sarting this year, Sooner also will sell fruit trees including apple, peach, pear, plum, blueberry and cherry.In the new 19,000-square-foot greenhouse and two acres of growing space, perennials and trees are developing roots for spring sale.
"We have varieties for Oklahoma that gardeners cannot find other places," Chojnacki said. "Fleming Hibiscus from Nebraska that is hardy here grows to 2 feet tall with multiple flowers."
Sooner also offers a wide variety all of Dr. Carl Whitcomb's crape myrtles that were developed in Oklahoma to resist powdery mildew. Many of Whitcomb's varieties have red to purple leaves in the fall instead of the traditional green.
"We ship plants all year," Chojnacki said. "When they order, customers can select to ship now or let us ship to them at the best time for their zone. If we are shipping to states with specific state inspection requirements, that can add two weeks to our shipping time since we have to have an inspector come out."
When Chojnacki graduated from Dupage Horticulture School near his native Detroit, Mich., the students went on a graduation tour that included Greenleaf Nursery. That 1985 trip brought him to Oklahoma permanently."Greenleaf is a top-notch grower," Chojnacki said. "At the time I was a plant propagator and I stayed with them for five years. Then, I worked at Midwestern Nursery for several years before opening Sooner Plant Farm. Horticulture has always been my plan for life."
Terrisa Wells, a graduate of Bacone College horticulture program, does all office and customer service work along with packing each shipment in specially designed boxes that protect the plants during shipment. Wells started at Greenleaf Nursery at age 16. She also has wanted to work with plants her entire life.
"I want try to sell everything that is new as well as the plants that have proven to be successful," Chojnacki said. "The growers promote them all over the media and gardeners like new things, and we just want to be their first choice when purchasing plant materials"Since not every new introduction will grow in every growing zone, Sooner's Web site will soon have has a customer comments section where gardeners can discuss how well specific tree, shrub and perennial varieties grow in their gardens.
Chojnacki is speaking at Muskogee Garden Club at 10 a.m. Feb. 21. His topic is "Twenty Great Plants for Oklahoma." The public is welcome to come to the meeting at 9:30 for coffee before the presentation.
Watch http://www.soonerplantfarm.com/ Web site for the early plant sale — an additional 5 percent off."If customers take advantage of the Sooner Gold Club discount plus the other sales they can save up to 40 percent on plants," Chojnacki said.
If you want to call Brian or Sooner Plant Farm, you can reach him at (877) 683-2500. His name is pronounced cho-nak-ee.