The Small Budget Gardener’s Guide to Buying Plants

It’s easy to save money while cultivating an impressive garden if you know where to shop and what to look for. This guide to buying plants is a great primer for plant shopping and penny pinching.

| June 14, 2012

  • Garden-Market-Flower-Display
    When buying annuals, freshness is everything, which means very small plants are a good buy.
    COOL SPRINGS PRESS
  • Small-Budget-Gardener-Cover
    “The Small Budget Gardener” by Maureen Gilmer offers down-to-earth gardening advice on sourcing and propagating plants, treating the planet right, creating garden art and more.
    COVER: COOL SPRINGS PRESS
  • 8-Pack-Seedlings
    When you’re shopping for bedding plants, pay close attention to the number of cells that are in the packs you buy. Those with eight cells obviously have more plants than more common six-cell containers, even though their prices can be similar.
    COOL SPRINGS PRESS
  • Quart-Container-Seedling
    A quart container will be your “Best Buy” for established perennials.
    COOL SPRINGS PRESS
  • Green-Trees-Nursery
    The traditional garden center is the place to find service, unusual plants, and quality trees and shrubs.
    COOL SPRINGS PRESS
  • Jethro-Tull-Branded-Plant
    This tickseed is a private brand as shown by the unusual container designed to make it stand out against similar, or perhaps even identical, varieties in generic containers.
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  • Flowering-Cherry-Tree
    There’s no reason why fruit trees can’t also serve as landscape trees because they offer just as much spring and fall color as fruitless forms.
    COOL SPRINGS PRESS
  • Outdoor-Christmas-Tree
    The best outdoor Christmas trees are smaller conifers that remain small enough to decorate even when they mature.
    COOL SPRINGS PRESS
  • Outdoor-Holiday-Tree-By-Brick-Wall
    Conifers that bear attractive foliage and coloring offer both an outdoor holiday tree and cuttings to trim off for indoor décor.
    COOL SPRINGS PRESS
  • Bargain-Hunter's-Retailer-Guide
    Above are the most common plant groups and the retail location where you can find a good bargain on a healthy plant.
    COOL SPRINGS PRESS
  • 2-For-1-Fruit-Trees
    Some common ornamentals can be substituted by fruiting plants that offer the same beauty and color plus provide a bonus of edible fruit.
    COOL SPRINGS PRESS
  • Best-2-For-1-Plants
    Unlike seasonal flowers that are here today and gone next year, the 2-for-1 plant is more long-lived and becomes a permanent component in your garden.
    COOL SPRINGS PRESS
  • Not-Big-Outdoor-Christmas-Trees
    This carefully compiled list features well tested varieties of otherwise large forest trees.
    COOL SPRINGS PRESS

  • Garden-Market-Flower-Display
  • Small-Budget-Gardener-Cover
  • 8-Pack-Seedlings
  • Quart-Container-Seedling
  • Green-Trees-Nursery
  • Jethro-Tull-Branded-Plant
  • Flowering-Cherry-Tree
  • Outdoor-Christmas-Tree
  • Outdoor-Holiday-Tree-By-Brick-Wall
  • Bargain-Hunter's-Retailer-Guide
  • 2-For-1-Fruit-Trees
  • Best-2-For-1-Plants
  • Not-Big-Outdoor-Christmas-Trees

Gardening can be so much more than planting pansies or growing patio container tomatoes — with proper planning and site location, trees can help you save money on your home energy bills; you can recycle virtually everything in and for your garden; you can save money and be “greener” in the process; and you can just have more, plain old fun in the garden! The Small Budget Gardener (Cool Springs Press, 2009) by Maureen Gilmer is your “big book” of ideas and resources to help you squeeze the most from your gardening dollars. Learn all about buying plants on the cheap in this excerpt from Chapter 2, “Shop ‘Til You Drop.” 

The simple act of acquiring plants is among the most satisfying shopping experiences. Installing these new candidates into the garden, particularly in spring, touches something primal in all of us that responds to this season when life returns from winter. Unlike many things we purchase at a store, plants are living, so the way we buy them takes a bit more care to get a healthy, vigorous individual at the lowest price possible.

Plants are second only to food in the amount of care they require while on retail display. Like lettuce, a wilted annual flower may never come back no matter how much moisture it gets later. And like bread, once the freshness has gone out of it, its value vanishes altogether. Day-old bread tastes nothing like fresh bread, and a plant too long in a retail setting will never become a vigorous, floriferous adult.

You must consider three things when shopping for plants. First is your budget, which limits how much you have to spend. Second is your level of horticultural knowledge, which dictates how well you can evaluate a plant. Third is the amount of time you have to devote to gardening or for a plant to mature.



Perhaps the most important factor when plant shopping is avoiding impulse buys. If you don’t come prepared with a strong idea of what you need, you’ll be vulnerable to buying plants that are truly fabulous, and possibly at a great price, too, but they may not fit your climate or into your landscape design. If a plant really catches your eye, write down its name, then research it to find out if it will be successful in your garden.

Where to Buy Plants

While comparison shopping there are many details to absorb, from evaluating material quality to product workmanship, freshness, and style. In addition, knowing where you are likely to find what you want at the highest quality for the best price is the synthesis of all this data. Shopping is a many-faceted process that goes far beyond a simple act of “find it and buy it.”






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