10 strategies for shopping at plant nurseries and garden centres

With so many plants to choose from, finding the best new plants for your garden can be a challenge. Instead of using the trial-and-error method, use these 10 strategies to become a smart plant shopper.

10 strategies for shopping at plant nurseries and garden centres

1. Shop locally

Make friends with a local nursery, because local growers are invaluable sources of information on plants and problems specific to your area.

  • The best nurseries provide not only plants but also sound advice from experts, whose livelihoods depend on raising quality plants that thrive in local conditions.

2. Be an early bird

Find out what day the nursery receives new plants from wholesale growers; it's often Thursday or Friday, in preparation for the weekend rush.

  • Shop on these days to get a better choice of plants.

3. Buy in bulk

Discounts are often available on quantities of the same plant.

  • If you're planning a large installation, such as a hedge, buy the plants all at once instead of over time.
  • You may get a discount, and you'll be assured that all the plants will match.

4. Seek out specialists

Besides large-scale general nurseries that stock everything from marigolds to magnolias, shop at specialty growers who restrict their business to a few types of plants, such as daylilies, roses or fruit trees.

  • They're more likely to grow outstanding, rare varieties that you won't find elsewhere.

5. Purchase special services

Many nurseries offer landscape services as well as plants.

  • You may want to buy a large specimen tree, for example, but need help getting it into the ground.
  • Many nurseries have the special equipment needed to make big planting projects a success.

6. Check guarantees

Policies on replacing failed plants vary among nurseries, so ask before you buy.

  • Some growers will replace a plant for free, while others charge a percentage of the plant's cost; there's usually a time limit — perhaps six months or a year.
  • Always retain receipts to validate your purchases, especially when buying costly plants.

7. Inspect plants and ask questions

  • Examine plants carefully for any signs of pests, disease or weakness.
  • Ask growers how the specimens were propagated and raised and what conditions they will require.
  • If the height and spread isn't given on a plant tag, ask about the plant's mature size. A pretty little shrub pruned back in a nursery display may grow into a monster.

8. Buy flowers before they bloom

Potted lilies covered with flowers are beautiful, but they will finish blooming in a few weeks, and you'll have to wait a year for more flowers.

  • Perennials, flowering shrubs and even orchids are best purchased in bud, before they bloom.

9. Check the roots

A plant's roots are a good guide to the plant's health and age.

  • Pull the plant gently from the pot and inspect the roots; they should be healthy, vigorous and evenly distributed through the soil.
  • If they're thickly coiled in the bottom of the pot or are poking out of the drainage hole, the plant is potbound and has been in the container too long.
  • Such roots usually have difficulty growing out when transplanted into garden soil.

10. Set them free

Once you return home with your new purchases, unpack the plants promptly and make them comfortable.

  • Place them in the shade and let them get air; water them if necessary.
  • If you can't plant them right away, place them in a sheltered spot and keep them moist.
  • Sink larger container-grown plants into the soil, pot and all. The roots will stay cool and the plants will need less water.
  • On cool nights, set tender plants in a warm cellar or garage.
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