If you are a plant-a-holic you know there are always more plants to buy than you have money to pay for them. But there are ways for the savvy shopper to get the plants they want for their Michigan garden without going broke. It just takes a little planning, a bit of knowledge and yes- restraint.
We are lucky that in Michigan the greenhouse-nursery industry is huge and our selection of plants is great. You can probably find the plant you are looking for here in a Michigan retail store. Try to buy local first and resort to catalog sales only as a last resort.
Make a list
First decide at home what you need and want to buy this year. To make a list you should assess your garden conditions; sun or shade, clay soil or sandy soil, wet or dry and so on, and what time you have to devote to garden maintenance. You also need some plan for the feeling you want to achieve, formal or informal, and colors that you want to include.
If you aren’t sure about what plants could work in your landscape you can do some research in garden books and all of those garden catalogs you have been receiving since Christmas. Or consult a professional landscape designer or ask an experienced gardener to help.
Spend your money first on things that will be the anchor points of your landscape and take the longest to grow. That would be the trees and shrubs.
Be practical with your list. Just because you want something doesn’t mean its right for your landscape and it doesn’t mean you have to have it this year. Part of the fun of gardening is planning the garden you’ll have next year. And buying plants that are going to be very unhappy in your landscape is a waste of money.
Take your list with you when you shop for plants and do your best to stick to it! Yes you will probably succumb to temptation once in a while. But having lists will remind you why you need to choose hosta instead of daylilies or a maple tree instead of a hydrangea.
It shouldn’t be hard for a plant lover to visit several nurseries in the area to look at what is offered. Different places will sell the same plant for different prices. Plants that the greenhouse grew on site may be less expensive because they eliminated the middle man.
Some of those garden catalogs or on line stores may help you get a price range. Remember that catalog purchases usually add shipping costs to the total price so paying a little more locally really isn’t paying more. And the advantage of buying locally is that you see the actual plant you are purchasing.
Make sure you are comparing plants of the same size and of the same quality. The prices of plants are generally based on pot size. However one store’s gallon sized pots may contain a 4 inch pot size plant stuck in a 1 gallon pot of planting medium, instead of a lush, well grown gallon sized plant
Big retail stores often feature low prices on plants in their garden centers. They get better wholesale prices because of the volume they buy. Usually these stores have a mixture of Michigan and southern grown plants. You can get a bargain there but be careful. Try to buy plants soon after they arrive, as some of these places don’t care for nursery stock very well. Most of the selection in these stores will be mainstream plants of older varieties. Some plants purchased from southern nurseries will take longer to adjust to Michigan conditions.
You’ll get better prices if you buy red daylilies instead of “Flaming Ruby”. Can you really tell the difference between “Flaming Ruby” and an older, less expensive variety called “Ruby Slippers”? And a daylily simply marked “Red” may be just as pretty and be even less expensive. This holds true for all kinds of plants, not just daylilies.
The first year a newly named variety is on the market it is generally more expensive. If you can wait a few years the price of that variety will drop considerably. And waiting lets other more eager and richer gardeners test the variety to see if it will do well in Michigan gardens, instead of you finding out the plant was a flop here.
Buying assortments or unnamed varieties can be a cost effective way to populate large garden areas. An assortment of unnamed hosta could be half the cost of similarly sized, labeled varieties and do the job of covering ground in the shade just fine for you.
Some mixtures and assortments are of second grade, smaller or less perfect plants. If you have time to wait for the big picture and give them a little extra care these plants may offer you a great bargain.
Buy starter sizes
Those that have patience can save money by buying small sized pots of perennials and smaller trees and shrubs. Remember to space them correctly for their mature size in the garden. Some starter sized plants may need more than one garden season to bloom.
You can fill in bare looking areas with cheaper annual plants until the small perennial plants fill in the bed.
Small sized plants that are put in the right growing conditions and are well cared for may surprise you by catching up in size to those larger plants you looked at in just a short time. Some small plants adjust better to transplanting “shock” than larger versions of the plant.
Get free plants!
Tell your gardening friends what kinds of plants you are looking for. Maybe they can give you a few from their garden. Join a garden club, many of these have plant swaps, even if you don’t have plants to share some clubs will allow you to take any unwanted plants at swaps.
If you see a wildly overgrown garden ask the owner if you can help them weed and tidy up the garden in exchange for divisions from some of the plants. Things like Siberian or bearded iris, phlox and daylilies need regular dividing to remain productive. Some overgrown garden owners may just want to get rid of the garden and you will have struck gold.
In some areas of Michigan there are a lot of abandoned homes, some with peonies, roses and other plants still struggling in the yards. If you can find out who owns the home- a bank, city or private company, you may be able to get permission to rescue some of the plants in exchange for tidying up the lot or mowing the lawn.
At the end of the spring planting season and just before winter some greenhouse owners and garden stores may actually give away left over plants or sell them at greatly reduced prices. Some of these plants will need to be nursed back into shape, but may be worth the time and effort.
Ok its time to tuck that list into your wallet and head out to shop. Another good way to save money on plants is to leave the credit cards home and carry only the cash you can afford to spend!