Hunting for bargain garden plants is easy if you use these 5 simple hints.
These days many of us don’t take (or have) the time to plant seeds or take cuttings. We dig, weed, mulch, trim and tidy up, but we often don’t have the time to wait for a cutting to send out roots. Waiting for seeds to germinate can also be a stretch and so instead, we pop down to the garden center. Here we can buy a plant or seedling that someone else has produced – looking lovely and ready to go. It’s a great arrangement, which gets even better when we learn how to bargain shop for plants…
Let’s set the scene. Plants are living things and they have an active growing season (spring, summer and sometimes fall, depending on where you live). This is followed by a resting and regrouping season – winter. Even in the kindest of climates, a visit to your nursery in mid winter and then again in mid summer should show you the difference. At the start of the active season, nurseries are stocked to the max with plump, ready-to-impress plants. At the other end of the growing season there are fewer plants on the stands and these may be looking a little less impressive. This is where you come in, ready to snap up the bargains. But you’ll need to have your wits about you…
1. Know what can be saved: So you’re wandering around looking at the end-of-season items or maybe marked down stock and the prices look great. Stop and look closely at the plants themselves before you start piling them onto your trolley. A little yellowing of the leaves is OK, but is there enough healthy foliage to let the plant bounce back once you’re giving it all the fertilizer, water and sunlight it needs? Does the plant look like it’s been regularly irrigated or are you suspicious that it has been allowed to dry out to the point where any water now would just run down the inside the pot and straight out the bottom? Gently lifting the plant out of the pot – something that’s easy to do late in the season when roots are well established – will let you confirm that there are healthy, living roots.
2. Good plants to look for: Not every type of plant hangs in there long enough to be a worthwhile end-of-season-bargain. There are no hard and fast rules, but as a general guide, plants that hold their own in the garden through a long summer are often good bargain candidates. Think agapanthus, roses, lavender, cistus, camellia, etc. Look for signs of life, like new buds or new sprigs of growth. That impressive display of Flower Carpet roses that you spotted at the nursery in spring may now be reduced to a hand-full of plants that are looking a little scrappy. But don’t be fooled. These leftovers are time bombs ready to burst into action once you get them home.
3. Have a list, but be flexible: If you’ve been planning a garden refresh, and are canny enough to wait for these plant clearances, you may need to be flexible. Your lovingly drawn planting scheme in reds may have to shift to pink if that’s the only color available on the shelves. One approach is to draw your garden plan and mark the areas to be planted in heights. This helps you find what you need – among the bargains on offer – to make the essence of your design work.
4. Don’t forget the TLC: These orphan plants are going to need a little more tender care than they may have in the spring. You probably won’t get much growth or blooms on them now, but it’s important to focus on establishing a strong root system, especially if you live in a cold-winter area. When planting, them, it’s best to not use fertilizer this late in the season, but it’s OK to add a bit of phosphorus to the planting hole to promote strong root growth. If you live in USDA Zones 6 or colder, add a few inches of mulch around the base of the plant to protect it from winter frost heaves, which will weaken the roots.
5. Those seductive annual seedlings: Seedlings are like babies – they are irresistible. At the beginning of the season when their pansy or primrose faces are looking up at us from perfect trays, we’re transfixed. Later in the season when they may be looking a little leggy, limp and sad, if they’ve been marked down, it’s still tempting to take them home. By all means do, but only if they are seriously discounted because you will only get a few weeks value from them. And if you do bring some home, treat them like cut flowers. Condition them with ample water doctored with some liquid fertilizer, clean them up by carefully removing any spent foliage and flowers, then plant them tightly into pots and arrange them for short-term impact at the door, on the outdoor dining table or even on the sunny kitchen window ledge.
For hi-res photos to accompany this story starter, please contact Judie Brower at jbrower@TesselaarUSA.com