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Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Considerations when buying discount plants
This is the time of year when many nurseries, home improvement centers and grocery stores unload their stock of plants at discount prices. It can be tempting to fill your cart with types and numbers of plants you normally would not buy, all because the exhilarating price seems right. Or, maybe you leap into a rescue mission thinking you can save the poor little plants no one else wanted. (Come on, admit it, you know you think that sometimes. No? Just me? OK, never mind.)
Here are some things to consider when buying plants at discount prices.
1. The source. My town sports a seasonal greenhouse that starts all its own plants from seed, sells them onsite, and then closes shop mid-summer. The nursery holds a 1/2-price sale at season's end to clear stock. I've always had high quality plants from this greenhouse; their reputation depends on it. Some nurseries have plant guarantees. In contrast, plants decking a grocery store's entrance probably don't matter as much to that retailer's overall business.
2. The reason for the discounts. Are plants on sale because they have been neglected? (Not a good sign.) Or are they surplus stock?
3. Condition of a plant. Often clerks relegate plants to the clearance shelf based on appearance alone. Is a plant just thirsty or near death? If the latter, walk away. If plants look less than ideal do you know what to do to remedy this? For instance, might you recognize that all a marked down purplish tomato plant needs is fertilizer? If so, evaluate what that is worth to you. Plant rehabilitation takes extra care, and your time is money.
If a plant appears in good shape, still take a look at the root ball to confirm plant health. Gently hold the plant in one hand and tip it over to pull the pot away with your other hand. If the roots form a rigid mass that looks like a cork, that's an indication the plant is extremely rootbound and will not transplant well. It was probably dehydrated and formed so many roots in its search for moisture.
Say you've checked and are confident you've stumbled on some healthy plants. Dirt cheap! There's more to consider:
4. Do the plants match the soil, light and water conditions in your yard? No use buying a sun lover if all you have is shade.
5. Do you have a spot available? I was excited to score a $2 bare-root rose bush at the grocery store. But my excitement has turned to embarrassment because this purchase was in May ... and the bush is still in its package in a bucket on my patio! I haven't prepared a spot yet. An inexpensive plant you never release from its pot is no bargain.
6. Closely related, do you have time to get the plants into the ground soon? Or will they, ahem, sit on the patio? Last year I bought a flat of black-eyed Susan flowers at the greenhouse (for half price, of course) then promptly went out of town. Oops.
7. How long is the growing season in your area? Will vegetable starts have time to mature if you plant them late? Will you still get blooms out of annual flowers? Keep in mind that it is harder for plants to get established in the heat of summer than in the milder temperatures of spring. All this takes time and watering attention.
Bottom line: although I joke, thinking you can rescue plants is not a compelling reason to buy them on sale. Robust plants are always a better investment, provided they also match your garden's soil, light and water conditions -- and your time as gardener. When all these factors align, bargain bin plants can be a thrill.
Tell us, have you had any triumphs with discount plants?