The Thing About Box Store Bargains

I know you've done it before. You walk into your local box store and head straight for the bargain plant rack. You peak around at all the bargain plants they're trying to get rid of. You look over at the half dead shrubs, the pots that are so far gone that it's more of a pot of dirt than a potted plant. Then you come across what I can only describe as the "why is that plant here?" plant. It looks great, the foliage is lush and it looks healthy. There might be one or two damaged leaves but nothing else seems amiss. So why is that plant here?

The reason I think this happens is the difference between the box stores and the "plant area" and the nurseries. Nurseries know what they have and how to take care of it. Box stores tend to worry more about moving the merchandise and they don't always know about the plants. Now that isn't always true, many of the folks who have worked at the box stores know a thing or two about plants. It's just that far more of them don't than do and as a result it's why plants end up on the discount racks that probably shouldn't.

Sometimes the box stores just want shelf space for the next seasonal thing. That's fine by me because you can find really good deals on plants that have just bloomed and will re-bloom again next year. Like the four gallon pot azaleas I picked up for $1.50 each. They are destined to be planted on the hillside pathway along our slope (which I just realized I need to update you on its progress). They aren't the Encore™ azaleas and will only bloom in the spring but I'm planning ahead for next year. Besides they give me more planting material for cuttings! But the whole reason the azaleas were on the shelf for such a low price was because they wanted the space to put more seasonal plants - things that are blooming.

Other times the workers at the box store see plants past their prime blooms and stick them on the discount shelf without realizing that they will re-bloom this year. Like the $3 six-pack of Wave™ petunias I bought today. The regular price was almost $9. Wave™ petunias bloom prolifically (in most gardens - I've tried petunias for a couple years now but they never seen to amount to anything. "If at first you don't succeed" right?) and continue blooming all summer. All that was needed was a little trimming and the plants would put on showy blooms for the next customer coming by. Had these been at a nursery you can bet they wouldn't have been discounted.

It all has to do with the customer base. The box stores attract a wide variety of customers some who are knowledgeable, some who just like to dabble, and some who just like to plant the pretty stuff and hope it grows! It's the folks who buy the flowers in bloom who they are targeting. After all when you see gorgeous flowers in bloom enmass like you do at the store who wouldn't be tempted? We all have a bit of impulse buyer inside - hiding - waiting to be let out! Those who are knowledgeable or do diligent research before they buy get the advantage of knowing what makes a good deal on the discount racks.

The nurseries are catering to the gardener, the garden designer, the landscaper, and the person who wants to learn about the plants they are buying. That's the big advantage in a nursery - you have a plant expert on hand to help you with your decisions. That isn't always true but in more cases than not it is.

What should you look for in a discount plant to know you are getting a good deal?
Here are a few 6 tips to help:
  1. Avoid plants (especially shrubs and trees) with severe browning or damage. The odds are against you and they may contain disease. Last year I saw ornamental pear trees at the box store with the typical crook shaped branches that accompanies fire blight. I warned the clerk and they were removed very soon after.
  2. Examine the pot. A pot bound plant can be saved with a little root pruning but if you don't treat the problem by teasing out the roots or pruning you will end up with a plant that will continue to girdle. If you do purchase the pot bound plant makes sure it's very cheap.
  3. Determine if the plant is a one and done seasonal performer or if it will repeat bloom. I bought one of my best discount plants ever in an 'Oranges and Lemons' gaillardia. The blooms were gone but since it was a perennial I knew they would re-bloom with a little deadheading and TLC.
  4. Look for green leaves! If the flowers have faded and the leaves are all green you probably have a nice find for future blooms. 
  5. On corms or bulb plants be cautious. If they are seasonal like with tulips or daffodils and the leaves are brown you'll probably come away with a deal. Just plant the bulbs and hope for a show in the spring! I've seen caladiums frequently on the discount rack with leaf sprouts coming up. No doubt the foliage died but the plant didn't and it's trying to regrow the leaves.
  6. Annual Verbena
  7. Know what the plants are supposed to look like before you buy. The annual verbenas for $0.37 I bought are red (I think) but I do know what the form of the plant is like (mounding) and I know that they are easy to grow and maintain (and propagate). If you see a plant you might want look around on the "good plant" shelves and find a match to see if you really want it. Sometimes the match will be there and other times it won't but it doesn't hurt to look.
  8. Learn to walk away! That's hard when you see those cheap prices but if the plant is going to die no matter how much help you give it then you must walk away.

Buying plants on the discount shelf is always a gamble but you can definitely come out ahead if you proceed with a little caution and a little more knowledge.  That's why I love reading other blogs. Everyday I find some new plant I haven't grown yet and when I run across it in a nursery I remember a little about it. The best tip I can give on any subject is to seek out and learn all you can!

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