Summer Plant Sales – Buyer Beware?
Garden centers generally see fewer customers during July, August, and early September. As a result, they often run sales to generate business. It’s not unusual to see discounts ranging from 20% to 50% on all sorts of plants and gardening materials. For example, one nursery here in Stamford has 20% off all perennials until the end of the month, another in Wilton has 25% off everything until the 21st, and a large garden center in Greenwich just finished a sale in which trees were 50% off.
But is it worthwhile buying plant material in the middle of the summer? How healthy are the plants, and how likely are they to survive after you plant them?
Generally speaking, the selection of annuals, perennials, and grasses will be lower now than earlier in the season so you may not find the specific plants you’re looking for. For example, a search across several nurseries for Sedum ‘Matrona’ turned up not a single plant. On the other hand, nurseries often bring in new stock for shrubs, especially those that are in bloom now, such as hydrangea.
Nurseries want to sell plants—and diseased or damaged plants don’t sell. But, while they make a genuine effort to keep plants healthy, summer’s not the easiest time of year to maintain container-grown nursery stock. Expect to find powdery mildew on phlox and monarda, crispy edges on larger leaves, and leggy or bare-stemmed plants.
Remove plants from their pots to check the roots —if they’re highly pot-bound or rotted, put the plant down and walk away.
Check leaves and stems for insect pests and eggs—you don’t want to introduce new problems into your garden. On a recent nursery visit I saw Japanese beetles on most of the roses—definitely not something I want to bring home!
But, having said all that, summer sales can be a wonderful way to add to your garden at a reasonable price. Healthy plants should do fine if they’re watered well and given a little protection from the blazing sun. If you’re unsure about a specific plant, put it in a ‘nursery bed’ to see how it does and then move it into the garden in the fall or next spring.