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

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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