April 21, 2012

4 Tips For Getting Plant Bargains at the Store

Yesterday, we searched for decorative plants for my brother's yard.  His back yard is full sun, and his front yard is mostly shady, and he plans to live in his house for quite a while.  As usual, I had my eye out for a bargain, which made me think more about ways to get plants for cheap at stores.  It's amazing what deals you can get on plants that need a little TLC.

1.  Look for out of the way sales racks.  Often big box stores have sale priced plants in multiple locations. In the main garden area, you will often see sales tags on various plants.  These are good discounts if they're on plants you love.  Slightly off to the side, usually inside the outdoor fenced area, you will find older plants or plants that are dying all lumped together on a single rack for steep discounts.  The rack is out of the way, so the store doesn't have to deal with shelf space, and they're willing to sell the plants for almost nothing rather than take a total loss.  These are worth browsing because many plants that can't survive in the pot will do fine in the ground with some care and attention.  Whether these racks exist is entirely at the whim of the garden shop manager, so if you don't see them at one store, check out another branch in the same chain.
Finally, sometimes the nurseries that supply the plants will set up short term discount racks far to the side of the garden area.  An example is the $1.00 rack in the picture at right, which I spotted at a Home Depot in Missouri in late April.  The nursery had moved $7-$10 spring blooming plants to this rack far from the main garden area in the hope of selling as many of them as possible before she brought in the next shipment of plants.  She was putting up stickers on Friday, by Saturday, most of the plants were sold, and by Monday they'd been replaced by new $10 ones.

2.  Perennials past their bloom are often the best deal. Often big box stores place their perennials at a steep discount in the weeks after they finish blooming.  The flowers are no longer in bloom so they don't catch customers' eyes and take up shelf space.  However, there's nothing wrong with the plants, and they make healthy additions to any garden.  Some plants will not bloom again until next year, however planting them now will give them time to get established in your garden and grow strong roots.  Others may still have the potential to bloom again.  Simply deadhead them, by gently popping off the dead flowers, and they may regrow blooms this season.  Whether they bloom or not, by next spring, you will have the same plants as your neighbors for 20% to 10% of the full price.

My $1.50 "annual" a year later
3.  Learn about plants and your growing zone.  Last summer, I was looking through the sales rack at a Lowe's and saw a beautiful wandering jew in a large pot for $1.50.  A garden center employee was marking prices and explained that they mark down annuals at the end of the season, and that these plants were considered annuals in the northeast because they can't survive the cold winter.  To my eye, it was a perennial houseplant, so  I brought it indoors for the winter, and the wandering jew thrived, nearly doubling in size.   A little plant knowledge saved me quite a bit of cash

4.  Stop by the plant section frequently.  Whenever you go to a store that sells plants, swing by the garden center and browse the sales racks.  Because plants bloom and die quickly, they go on sale quickly and are discarded quickly, so sales plants have rapid turnover and the best way to find a deep discount is to stumble on it.  This also gives you the opportunity to chat with the garden center staff.  Over time, you'll get to know the staff and see who knows their stuff about plants.  You may be surprised how many stores sell plants now besides nurseries, by the way:  hardware stores, big box stores, grocery stores, even the occasional card or drug store.  You may also be surprised how many seemingly high priced nurseries have great sales.  If you're at the store anyway, wander over to the plant section, say "hello," and peek at the clearance plants.

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