How to Navigate the Nursery for Late Season Plant Shopping

It’s July and officially ‘late season’ for plant buying.  (Don’t worry! – you get another chance for regular season planting in the early fall).  In many parts of the country, this is a good time to find sales on perennials – particularly on those that have already peaked (i.e. bloomed) earlier in the season.

Shopping the nursery - image by Robert and Pat Rogers CC via flickr

Garden center and nursery visits are one of the best things about being a garden designer.  I’ve often thought I could make a whole business just leading clients around a well stocked nursery – even a non-gardener often becomes a kid in a candy store but with a paralyzing fear of choosing the wrong flavor.

How to keep your cool and make sure you don’t end up with plant version of spoiled milk and dead fish flavored Bertie Botts jelly beans?

Plant Buying Tip #1

Always have a list – which is really more like a framework. What I drive away with almost never matches what I went in with, but that isn’t the point.  I have my plant list to guide me for quantities but most importantly I also make a quick note about the reason I need it (i.e. fill for sunny spot between the roses, something in pale pink that will handle the crap soil where the old patio was, tolerates shady clay, tall, and will look good against black wall, need more red in august, etc…).  These notes keep me on track but open to the fun of spontaneously reworking everything after I have garnered the excellent advice of nursery staff or I have discovered some entirely new and fantastic combination (Top tip:  Caramel Corn + Strawberry Jam is flavor heaven).

Plant Buying Tip #2

Which brings me to my next point – always talk to the staff. A good nursery has good plant people working there.  Talk to them and mine them for information about every aspect of the plant.  Even the most wildly knowledgable plants person doesn’t know everything. Gardening is as much a social act as a quiet and meditative one and the nursery is where knowledge and wisdom passes easily from one person to the next. (And if it doesn’t – find a new nursery! – one that has helpful and knowledgable staff). 

Plant Buying Tip #3

Also, don’t lie to yourself.  Full shade is not partial shade and partial shade is not full sun.  Neither is clay slightly chalky and adding a little compost to sandy soil will not make it humus rich. It is still sandy. Your conditions are what they are – recognize them and work with them.  I see them as the helpful tool that allow me to narrow down the millions of plant choices and discover new things to achieve my goals. Don’t be tempted to buy what you can’t grow. Remember, if licorice makes you gag, there is nothing you can do to change this!

Plant Buying Tip #4

Avoid things that look wilty, or have weeds growing on top of the pot, these are signs of neglect that very likely have traumatized the plant.  Check the under the leaves for unwanted pests, and inspect the roots too.  Are they growing out the holes in the bottom of the pot? Lift the plant out of the container and see if they are a knotted up swirl.  Thick and twisted roots will need to be loosened before planting and even still, these plants can have a hard time establishing themselves in their new homes.

These are my basic rules and I follow them faithfully –  right up until I decide to rescue a deeply discounted near lifeless wretch I am sure I can garden back to life. These are the popcorn flavored beans of the garden center – sometimes they are good – and others you find you must quickly swallow it (and your pride) and then wash it down with something better.  Like cherry – cherry is always good.

LAte season shopping at the garden center Black cherry supertunia from proven winners

Image: Black Cherry Supertunia from Proven Winners.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Proven Winners. I am not an employee of Proven Winners and all opinions are my own.
Top image Robert and Pat Rogers under CC 

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When the planting season starts to wane, there are some great plant nursery deals to be found.

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About Rochelle Greayer

Hi, I'm Rochelle and for 18 years I have worked as a landscape designer, author/writer, and design teacher. I've designed residential and hospitality (for hotels, restaurants, and spas) gardens across the USA and in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. After many years of teaching garden design topics in person, I launched the PITH + VIGOR Boot Camp series in early 2018. Through my blog, social media, and online courses (Garden Design Bootcamp and Planting Design Boot Camp) I aim to help homeowners learn how to confidently design and create home gardens that reflect their own personal and unique style.

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