Great Tips for Buying Bargain Plants

A fall plant sale Fall is a great time to buy plants at a discount price — but be sure you know what you're buying. Image: Houston Museum of Natural Science

Now is a great time to buy plants and trees on sale. But bargains come at a price.

If you like bargains, you’ll love the late-summer/early-fall sales nurseries stage to clear out inventories.

“Fall is a fantastic planting season,” says horticulturalist David Yost of Merrifield Garden Center in Virginia. “You can find plants for a really great price.”

Buying plants and trees now, however, can be a little dicey. Some have lost their blooms, so you don’t know exactly what color you’re buying — fine if you’re adding to a naturalized landscaping plan; a design mistake if you have formal gardens.

However, if you can stand a little suspense in spring, you can save money by buying now. Here are bargains to look for.

  • Azaleas and rhododendrons: They won’t have blooms, so you won’t know their exact hue, but their tags will indicate their color family.
  • Tropicals: Buy hibiscus and bougainvillea now for a pittance, and nurse them through winter in a sunny place indoors. Then transplant in spring.
  • Annuals: They’re cheap now because they’re not cold-hardy and will die at the first hard frost. So be aware that you’re buying a splash of color for the next few months only.
  • Broken branches: Like dented cans, plants with imperfections like broken branches often are good bargains. If the plant otherwise looks healthy, buy it.
  • Lost tags: Many nurseries put tagless plants on sale. You’ll be able to tell the plant family but not the species or color family. You’re buying a pig in a poke. But if you’ve got space to fill and don’t care too much about the hue, tagless can save you money.

Remember to thoroughly water when you plant. And check every three or four days to make sure the soil is damp — like a sponge — not sopping or dry.