How to Shop at Garden Centers

Check out these tips to make your shopping trip more productive

This may seem like a no-brainer to some, but there really are some techniques that will make your shopping experience more pleasant and more productive. Here are some of my best tips when shopping at a garden center.

How to Shop at a Garden Center

  • Come prepared. Research the types of plants you want to buy ahead of time to make sure they will grow well in your yard. Take into consideration the type of soil you have, the amount of sun and water they need, how large they will get and if they are hardy to your area. Generally, the perennials, shrubs and trees found in your area garden centers will work fine in your yard, but if you like to travel a few miles like I do to find more unusual plants, then you may have to pay more close attention to the plant tags. Also, garden centers in big box stores, may offer plants that are not necessarily hardy to your area, or will offer perennials to be grown as annuals. Bringing a list can also help you stay on budget.
  • Shop at off hours. If you have lots of questions to ask the experts at your garden center, I am sure they would appreciate you stopping by at off peak times so that they can spend more time with you. This is also a great time to research plants before making your final purchase. Off peak times can vary by garden center, but generally early in the morning or during weekdays is best. This may also be a good time if you want to call and ask if they have a certain plant in stock.

  • Don’t buy plants in full bloom. When purchasing annuals, buy ones that are not yet in full bloom so that they will bloom longer in your garden. You can mix them with ones that are in full bloom if having color immediately is important to you. You may want to do the same with any perennials that you buy as well. Generally, if the perennial is already blooming, it may not bloom again that season, so you might as well have it bloom in your garden instead of the garden center. Plants will go through less transplant shock if they are planted when they are just budding.
  • Only buy what you can plant in a few days. My rule is I never buy more than a flat or two of plants at a time, because that is all I can usually plant in a couple of days. Plants will be stressed on the ride home and they are more difficult to take care of in their pots than in the ground.
  • Buy smaller plants to save money. Annuals in 4 or 6 packs and perennials in 4”-6” pots are generally less expensive per plant than plants grown in larger containers. Some garden centers may sell small plants in large gallon sized containers so all you are really paying for is the soil. If you have a hard time finding a local garden center that sells smaller plants, then perhaps online ordering would be right for you.
  • Take photos of plants and tags. If you have a smart phone or digital camera, take photos of the plant and its tag so you can research any unfamiliar plant before buying it. This is also a good tool to help me remember a plant I would like to buy, but might need to budget for later on. You can also use a smart phone to do the research right there at the garden center, if necessary.
  • Purchase healthy plants. Look for plants that are shorter and more compact over plants that are tall and spindly. This is usually a sign of poor care. Lift the plant from its pot and check the roots to make sure they are nice and white and not too root bound. If there are not many roots in the soil, then this plant is underdeveloped and not ready for transplanting. Avoid plants with brown or yellow leaves or plants with obvious insects or insect damage. Spotted leaves may indicate a fungal disease, so avoid those as well.
  • Find out when new stock comes in. If your garden center does not grow their own plants, find out when they receive shipments each week and try and shop the day after a shipment arrives. These plants will likely be healthier and less stressed than plants that have been sitting in their greenhouse for a while. This is usually only an issue with big box store garden centers and not with smaller dedicated garden centers.
  • Take advantage of the bargain bins. I realize that an earlier tip says to purchase healthy plants that are newly arrived to your garden center, but if you are willing to take a small risk, you can find some great bargains. Most garden centers have an out of the way place, where they put plants that are past their prime, or that may have been damaged from a late frost or lack of care. You can also find some amazing deals in July and August when it is typically too hot to plant. I generally look for perennials because I know they will bloom again next year. Look over the plants, make sure they don’t have any obvious signs of pests or disease and check the roots to make sure they seem healthy. When you get your bargain plants home, re-pot them into a bigger pot, if necessary, and keep them in a holding area away from your other plants to make sure they don’t have any pests or diseases. Water them regularly and give them a shot of a diluted fertilizer. After a few weeks or when the weather is cooler for planting, it should be OK to incorporate them into your landscape.

I hope these tips help you make shopping at the garden center a little less intimidating. Happy gardening!

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