Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tenacious Tips Tuesday - The Curmudgeon's Season

Author's note: Sorry this is late, folks! Been on vacation!

Nothing drives me crazier than finding a plant I love at a price I can’t afford. It’s not that I necessarily think the growers or nursery people are overcharging, either. No, growers have my complete sympathy. Introducing a new plant to the public is the result of years, literally, of work. Making the crosses, growing the seedlings and discarding the majority of them for one flaw or another, propagating enough to sell and then hoping the public agrees with your choices. Given all that, it’s a wonder anyone bothers!
For me, though, what is comes down to is I am a cheapskate at heart. I have heart palpitations at the thought of paying more than $10 for a plant. A seed pack priced at $3.50 sends me fleeing in panic. My husband says I pinch a penny so hard, Abe Lincoln is eating wheat toast (if you’re too young to remember wheat pennies, my apologies).  So what’s a curmudgeon to do?
There are, of course, a million ways to save money on plants; I’ll discuss others in future Tips. For today, let’s talk about my absolute favorite, end of season sales. Yes, yes, I know; most places are picked over or the good stuff isn’t put on sale or the plants are in hideous shape or etc. All of that is true. However, there are still some factors that make these sales worth checking out.
First, it’s shopping, for pity’s sake, for garden plants. Isn’t that enough?? At any time of year? What else is your patio for except to hold a pot ghetto? Good grief, people, I shouldn’t have to spell this one out!
Second, if you like odd stuff, really odd stuff, you’re likely to find it at a steep discount at this time of year. Certain plants may not have sold in the main season because they were too weird for the general public, whose tastes run toward marigolds and geraniums. (Are these people really gardeners, by the way? I like those plants, too, but give me some quirky sedums, fall-blooming heleniums or at the very least a few gazanias! Don’t people get bored with the same old bedding plants year after year?)

Helenium 'Double Trouble'

Helenium 'Rubinzwerg'

Third, some of the bigger nurseries will indeed pull popular extras and store them in greenhouses for the next year. Smaller places may not have that luxury, though, and would prefer to get rid of all their stock and start over next spring. Watch for the mom and pop places and smaller nurseries. One local nursery I’ve gone to for years will often throw in a few freebies of perennials they were going to throw out. Your luck may vary, but it’s worth a shot, especially if you have good relations with them.

I can hear you saying “But if they were going to throw them out, they must have been awful plants! Why would I bring a plant like that into my garden?” That’s a valid concern and brings up the question of what constitutes a “bad” plant. I have a few criteria. A plant is bad if:
  • It is infested with bugs
  • It has some sort of visible disease
  • If it’s a tree or shrub, it has severe structural damage (broken limbs, badly formed trunks, etc.)
  • It is dead
Those ones stay at the nursery and my money stays in my pocket. However, I’ve brought almost every other type of problem home. Pot bound? Yep. Stunted growth? Yep.  Over grown? Yep. 
Plants are actually unbelievably tough and can recover from almost anything given proper care. Yes, they will look like hell for the rest of this season, but if you tease those roots out, give it a trim, plant it in good soil in plenty of time for it to get established and give it a little TLC in the spring, you’ll end up with a fantastic plant for a fraction of the original cost.
One of my favorite plant rescues is a brunnera I received as a freebie from my buddies at the above-mentioned nursery. I didn’t especially want it but my friend insisted I would love it and threw it in the box with my other stuff. It didn’t look good. Every leaf, all 3 them, was scorched from sitting out in the sun. The tiny pot was almost dried out. I held little hope for it, but I planted it in a moist, shady area and forgot it.
Next spring, my darling spouse asked me what that gorgeous, silver leafed plant was. It is now a healthy, beautiful addition to my shade garden and didn’t cost me anything but a little time digging.
Use caution, of course. Check the plant carefully for the things I mentioned. If it looks like more than you want to deal with as a reclamation project, pass it up. Some things are beyond earthly help and there is no point aggravating yourself with a plant you can’t save.
For those of you in my area, I strongly recommend Valoze’s Greenhouse and Faddegon’s Garden Center in general and for end of season sales. I was at Faddegon’s last week and their 50% off sale has begun. Valoze’s always has good prices and I believe their sale has started as well, though I haven’t been by lately. Another one to watch is Hewitt’s. Over the space of a few weeks, they drop their prices down to $15 for any tree or shrub and I have gotten some great stuff from them.
Enjoy the Curmudgeon’s Season!


Casa Mariposa said...

I LOVE end of season plant sales! I bought a bunch of 'Burgundy Glow' ajuga plants the other day for 50 cents each because there weren't enough to make a flat and the nursery just wanted to get rid of them. :o)

The Sage Butterfly said...

I have gotten some great deals at end-of-season sales. I agree that even the sad looking ones can be 'rescued.' Some of my favorite plants were obtained like this.

Sharie said...

This year I'm laying off the sales. I'm still in the middle of my renovations and the last thing I need is more plants to find homes for! It's killing me, though!! LOL!

Bumble Lush said...

Hi there, I just found your blog through blotanical. I love a good sale and plants are no exception. I'm right there with you about paying a lot of money for seed packets. We're actually saving seeds from some of our best vegetables this year, not only to save money, but also to get good veggies next year. Looking forward to reading more of your blog!

Sharie said...

Thanks, Bumble Lush (love that name!) We haven't done much with veggies in a few years but plan on putting in a few raised beds next year.

Thanks for checking it out! I popped over to your site and that chick pea salad looks yummy!