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Is that Plant Really a Bargain?

Tell me if this happens to you: You walk into the hardware store for something simple like a hammer or paint brush. It is a beautiful day, so you decide to walk through the garden center, not to buy, just to look. Then you spot it -- the clearance section! Orange tags! Oh the discounts!

I have been through this scenario more times than I can count, and it is unlikely to stop happening anytime soon. After some concerns about pesticides found in garden center plants, I will honestly say that I am a little more leery of purchasing plants at such locations, but until more research is done, I won’t eliminate the option entirely.

Fall is a great time of year to get deals on perennials, if you know what to look for. If you are buying perennials, make sure there is still enough time before the first expected frost date for a new plant to establish roots, ideally 6 weeks or more. Depending on the plant variety and how well it is protected from frost this fall, it may continue to grow slowly over the winter or simply store up energy to return next spring.

What to Look for While Bargain Shopping

  • Perennial- Don’t bother with clearance annuals since they usually go on sale at the end of the season and will not last much longer. Look for perennials, which come back every year. Mums, salvia and coreopsis are a few good perennials you might be able to find on clearance.
  • Hardiness zone- The USDA Hardiness zone refers to a region's lowest average temperature. (Find your hardiness zone here) When shopping, make sure hardiness zone marked on the tag is your zone or colder. For example, I am in zone 7a. Because I know that we occasionally get temperatures below 0°, I look for plants with a hardiness zone 6 or lower just to stay on the safe side. I would hate to grow something to maturity then lose it during a particularly harsh winter.
  • Healthy roots- No amount of discount makes up for unhealthy roots, so this is an absolutely must for transplanting success. It is ok if the roots are slightly root-bound, that is to be expected from plants that have been sitting for a few months, just make sure there is plenty of soil still in the container. Check to make sure the plant has not been routinely over-watered. Look for soaking wet soil, slimy roots or a sour or rotten smell. If you see these signs, pass on that plant.

Other Clearance Bargains

Fall is also a good time to get some deals on seeds, both at stores and from seed companies. They are going to be clearing out this year’s stock to make room for new varieties and fresh seed. Go ahead and buy from your favorite high-quality companies and plan on sowing seeds a little more thickly next year, maybe 5 seeds per hole instead of 3 depending on variety, because the older seeds get, the more their germination rates decline.

Have you gotten any good clearance deals on plants?


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The Restoration Garden by Tiffany Selvey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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