Happy August! At this time of year, garden centers in Iowa and in other cold parts of the country are beginning to mark plants down. Well, this girl loves a bargain! How do you decide if it’s worth it to pull over when you see those 30% off (or more) signs? Don’t be swayed by just any old price cut. There are a few questions to think about before you load that garden cart.
1. What’s this garden center like? Is the place relatively clean and free of weeds? Do you know if the staff knows anything about plants? You’re buying living things, and you want ones that have been cared for.
2. How do the leaves and stems look on the plants you’re interested in? Is there a lot of dieback? Are the leaves brown and curled up, or normal colored and healthy-looking? Do you see any signs of insects or disease? You’re looking for strong stems and clean, healthy leaves.
3. What’s it like inside the pot? Yes, I really do mean for you to gently slide the plant out of its pot. This is the most important thing! Does the soil smell earthy and fresh, or sour and gross? What are the roots like? Do they wrap around and around the plant? Are there thick roots right around the stem, if you’re looking at a tree or shrub? You’re looking for a healthy roots system that isn’t bound up inside the pot.
4. Is this a tender plant or a tough plant? Are you looking at fussy, hard-to-grow plants? Are they barely hardy in your area? If so, they may not make it in your yard. If they’re tough, tried-and-true garden standbys, you’ll be much more likely to have success.
5. Just how late in the season is it? For those of us in planting zone 5 and lower, we have to weigh the risk of a late season purchase meaning that an early frost could slow down our already stressed out bargain plants. However, roots grow when it’s cool out, so fall is a wonderful time to plant! If we buy and plant when it’s miserably hot and dry, we risk stressing them out even more! This leads us to the last question…
6. Can you take care of them? If you snag a bunch of marked-down plants and immediately go on vacation for a couple of weeks, leaving them sitting in their pots abandoned on your driveway, chances are they’ll be dead when you return. If you can plant them in the right spot straightaway, and water consistently, you should have great results.
It’s hard work to sit in a pot, often near hot asphalt, all summer. Plants are stressed from being out there and that’s why they’re marked down. You can still get a great deal, but you need to check to see if your plant is healthy- both above ground and inside the pot- free of disease, not too tender, AND you can get them in the ground and taken care of as soon as possible. Use these six questions the next time you see a discounted plants sign, and find out how successful you can be!