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Plant Shopping 101 (How to Buy Flowers for Your Garden)

For seasoned gardeners (like me) and novice gardeners alike, a trip to the gardening center can be pure sensory overload and even overwhelming. So many beautiful flowers and plants – which ones do I choose? Yikes, I just know I’m going to spend too much!  Can you relate? I’ve put together these tips and tricks for Plant Shopping to help gardeners through the overwhelm and to help us get the biggest bang for our buck when shopping for flowers and plants for our gardens.

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I have a confession to make… I’m a flower addict! And, when it comes to gardening, Plant Shopping can be one of my biggest downfalls. When my grown children were young, they hated riding in the car with me in the spring, because I would stop at every little parking lot pop-up greenhouse on the way to our destination. I always said I would spend my last dollar on flowers. I’ve come a long way since those days, but I still love flowers. I’ve just learned how to plan and budget better; however, this adorable t-shirt is on my birthday wish list this year.

Garden Center

Plant Shopping 101 – Make Gardening Plans

I harp on garden planning a lot! I find that paper plans are so much more realistic than the plans I have in my head. Without written plans, the chore and gardening project lists in my head can become mind crushing. When I stick to my written plans and lists, it’s so much easier to accomplish what needs to get done. 

Before you even think about stopping by a nursery, or going plant shopping, you need to have a list. Especially if you’re like me and just go gaga over flowers.

While we’re on the subject of garden planning, did you know that Gingham Gardens has the biggest and best Gardening Resources Library filled with FREE gardening printables to keep you on track with your garden planning and plant shopping. Stop by when you’ve finished up here and check it out.

How to Keep Your Gardening Budget in Check When Plant Shopping

Right after the holidays, I start stashing cash away to help support my addiction hobby. I save my mad money, cut back on eating out, take my lunch to work, stash away gifts of cash, save coins and anything else I can think of. When I put my mind to it, I have a nice stash of cash by the time gardening season rolls around. I’m curious, how do you come up with extra cash to buy flowers?

This will sound crazy to some, but I do not carry my wallet into the nursery with me. I use cash. I’m serious, I really do. I stick the allotted amount of cash, that I’ve set aside, in my pocket and leave my wallet in the car. Just doing this one small thing, makes me think about what I’m purchasing and helps me stick to my list and stick to my budget. I keep a running tally on my cellphone calculator, so I don’t overspend.

Another way to save money on gardening is by putting together your own container gardens. I’m always amazed at the price of some of the pre-made flower pots and container gardens. Simply snap a picture of the big, beautiful pre-made container garden that you want and then select the individual plants and put it together yourself. Don’t forget to do the math though, adding in the potting soil and container.

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What Should You Look For When Buying Plants For Your Garden

When plant shopping, whether it’s at your local nursery or another gardener’s plant sale, know what you are purchasing! You do not want to end up with aggressive or invasive plants that are going to cause you more grief in the long run than they are worth. If you don’t know the characteristics of a plant and there’s no one available to ask, simply pull out your phone and google the plant name and do a quick read up on its characteristics.

Again, if you’re purchasing perennial plants, know your gardening zone. Big box stores and even local nurseries will sell perennial plants that are not hardy in the zone they are in.

How to Choose the Best Annual Flowers and Perennial Flowers

Don’t buy plants that are in full bloom. Garden Centers and Nurseries force plants to bloom, because blooms sell. By the time you get the plant home and planted, its bloom cycle will be finished. This is the case for both annual and perennial flowers.
To get the biggest bang for your buck, look for plants with small tight buds and maybe just a few blooms. I would rather have the pretty flowers blooming in my garden as opposed to the garden center. In addition to looking for plants with tiny bubs, also look for plants with healthy foliage.

Perennial Dianthus Plants with text overlay - pick this one

Remember plants in the garden center are usually forced into blooming, so plants that are in full bloom at the nursery will not necessarily bloom at the same time next year in your garden. Appropriate bloom time will be on the plant tag.

It is not uncommon to pick up a plant and have weeds growing in the soil. Just pull them out and leave them at the nursery. You don’t want to introduce any new weeds into your garden. If the top of the soil is mossy and very weedy, pass on that plant.

I look for the fullest plant (not necessarily the tallest), especially when I’m looking at perennials. For instance, when I’m looking for a new daylily to add to my collection, I look for a plant that has the most fans in the pot. With hosta, I look for plants that have the most shoots or crowns.

More Tips for Buying the Best Flowers for Your Garden

  • Plant labels are important. They show when the plant’s typical bloom time is, expected full size and spread and give information on how to plant and how to take care of your new plant. I keep my plant tags in these or these.
  • If you are okay waiting for growth, look for quart-sized pots instead of gallon-sized. Sometimes you are get 2 quart sized plants for the same price as you would pay for 1 gallon sized plant. The smaller plants often catch up with the gallon sized ones by the following year.
  • I’ve read before not to purchase plants that are root bound in their pot, but really I don’t care if they are root bound. The plants will get planted in the ground or a larger container anyway, so what difference does it make. If the roots are bound, it is a good idea to loosen them up though.
  • Do not buy waterlogged or plants that stink like sulfur. This is an indication of root rot.
  • Don’t be afraid to shop the clearance section of the garden center. I’ve gotten some fantastic deals on perennials in the clearance section. In the case of perennials, sometimes they are just done blooming and the nursery can’t sell plants with no blooms. It won’t be instant gratification, but next year the plant will bloom just fine.


What to Look For In A Garden Center

We are so fortunate in our area to be blessed with some very large and some small gardening centers in spite of the fact that we’re zone 4 and don’t have the longest growing season. I definitely have my favorites. In fact most of the pictures used in this post were taken at my favorite Twin Cities nursery, Gertens.

Look for locally grown plants. Even many of the big box stores in my area sell plants that were grown by local wholesale growers.

If you walk into a nursery and the plants are not well maintained, turn around and walk out. This is probably not the best place to invest your money on new plants. The best garden centers have knowledgeable staff and the plants look healthy and loved.

If at all possible, try to shop on a weekday towards the end of the week. First off, if you’ve ever been to your favorite nursery in the spring, you know on the weekends the place is a mad house. If you shop on Monday or Tuesday, the selection is picked over from the weekend. But, if you shop on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, the nursery is stocked up and ready for another rush on the weekend. I especially love nurseries where the plants are grown on site.

What About Shopping Online for Garden Plants?

I love getting plant catalogs in the winter. They make me dream about warm, sunny days working in my gardens. Buying plants from online nurseries can be expensive and the plants are small, but I will order online when I can’t find a plant locally. I especially love family-owed nurseries.

Here are some of the Best Online Nurseries that I have had experience with:

  • Bluestone Perennials – they guarantee their plants for 1 year
  • Gilbert H. Wild – great sales
  • Oakes Daylilies – the best place to buy daylilies – the plants are huge
  • Smokey’s Daylilies – lots of varieties
  • Longfield Gardens (for bulbs) – one can never have too many lilies

Before you purchase plants from online nurseries, read up on them and read reviews. Dave’s Garden is a large gardening website and forum that has a list of the 30 best online nurseries compiled from recommendations of it’s readers. If you’re wondering about a nursery that I haven’t listed, check it out – Dave’s Garden Watchdog 30.

So what do you think? Did I miss anything? Is there something you would add to these tips for plant shopping? Leave a comment at the bottom of the post and let me know.

Additional Posts I Think You’ll Enjoy:

11 Flower Gardening Mistakes (And How to Fix Them)
Seed Starting Indoors (The Complete Guide)
Flower Gardening 101
DIY Garden Journal and Planner
12 Budget Friendly Gardening Tips

Thanks so much for stopping by Gingham Gardens today! I appreciate your visit. 

Happy gardening,

p.s. Follow Gingham Gardens on Pinterest for lots of great gardening ideas and tons of gardener’s eye candy. Gingham Gardens is also on Facebook – come say “hi.”

My Picks for the Best Flower Gardening Tools and Supplies: 


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