The Insider’s Guide to Being a Savvy Nursery Shopper

I love visiting retail nurseries and since I have worked at several of them off and on for over ten years, I believe I have a unique take on shopping at them. So, to help you make your shopping sprees more enjoyable, here are some helpful hints I’ve learned that I’d like to share with you.

Dress for Success

Normally dressing for success would mean wearing the appropriate attire for a chosen career. However, it also holds true when nursery hopping. Wear clothes that if they decide they would like to take soils samples of each garden center that you visit home with them, it won’t bother you. It is inevitable as well that you will pick up a container that has just been watered and will drip all over you and of course your favorite outfit. Make the outfit suitable for the outing, meaning if the weather is warm wear cotton clothing so it can breathe. Keep in mind, not all nurseries have concrete or asphalt on all their paths, so make sure your shoes are not only comfortable, but can also withstand a little dirt, moisture and/or mud. I can’t count how often I have impeccably timed my arrival to coincide with a nursery crew member’s watering schedule. So, take my advice and leave those pretty sandals at home safe and dry in your closet. Also, play it safe by wearing a hat and applying a liberal amount of sunscreen so you don’t end up bringing home and unwelcome souvenir of your sojourn…a big red sunburn!

Before You Hit the Road

Get your car/vehicle ready for your plant finds, soil amendment, fertilizer, etc. that you will be pilling in the back of the family bus. Although the plastic sheeting with the advertisements plastered all over them that the nurseries provide help, bringing along an arsenal of waterproof tarps, old blankets, towels, etc. will fortify your defenses. To keep the nursery containers from rolling around, use plastic trays, empty boxes or anything else you can think of that will help prevent them from taking an unescorted tour of your trunk. Even with this careful planning you may still have the misfortune of encountering the occasional mishap, but my suggestions should reduce the impact of the dirt disasters you may have to deal with.

It pays to be an informed shopper, so do your homework. Check out your gardening requirements before you go shopping. Have a shopping list of what you “need”. Evaluate your light exposure. Is it a sunny, dappled light or a shady spot that you will be shopping for? Know the dimensions of the garden’s area you plan on landscaping. Keep in mind if it will be viewed from a window. Do you want plants that provide color or are evergreen? Are you going to be planting them in the ground or in a pot? These are just a few of the questions you should ask yourself before you make your nursery trip(s).

Arm yourself with reference material just in case the staff is too busy, uninformed, nonexistent and/or maybe you just like doing your own research. Invariably you will see something new and will have to have it, but often it will not have any signage providing information (which may or may not be correct) about it. I admit that if I see something new I am not afraid to try it, but I rarely rely on what I read on the tags when making my buying decision.

The Best Time to Shop

To get the best selection and avoid crowds shop early on Thursday or Friday mornings. These are two of best days because the nurseries are usually stocking up for the weekend. Mondays are usually one of the worst days, especially in the spring, since things will have been picked over by the weekend shoppers. Plant reps and vendors generally visit the nurseries on Monday or Tuesday to get their orders, so the nursery can get their plants delivered on Wednesday or Thursday.

When I go to the nursery I like my visits to be peaceful and relaxing, so if I pull into a parking lot and discover it is full it is not a good sign for me. I’ll usually come back another day or go to another nursery to avoid the crowded chaos unless I have to get a particular item which I need at that moment.

There is no such thing as one-stop-shopping when it comes to finding plants. The more times you visit nurseries the more likely you will find some great treasures. There is no such thing as a perfect selection either as the plant choices are continually changing from what wholesale nursery growers offer from season to season and year to year.

Don’t shop late in the afternoon (or just before closing) because this is when the staff needs to be doing the daily chores required of them such as restocking and tidying up for the next day, putting away misplaced plants, checking for any plants that may need additional watering, finalizing paperwork, etc. They are tired and probably want to go home, so they may not be at their perkiest when assisting you so close to closing. Even the most perfect nursery employee probably doesn’t want to get involved with someone’s gardening project after seven plus hours of standing on their feet and working all day in the sun (no matter how pretty the day may have been). I don’t know about you, but I want someone’s undivided attention, so in order to get great service and selection, remember the Clematis Queen’s nursery shopping mantra: “Shop early and shop often”.

A Little Food For Thought

Bargains and plants don’t generally go hand in hand. Plants that you may pick up for a dollar or two in the discount pile are ones that usually have something wrong with them. Before you put down your hard-earned cash for a cheap deal you should ask yourself why are these plants here. In the long run it is more economical and smarter to pay full price for a healthy plant than for one that could easily end up in your compost pile or trash can.

No one nursery employee can know all things about all plants. My experience tells me that most have niches that they specialize in. Asking the nursery person that is seriously involved in xeriscaping about growing clematis and roses is an unwise choice for you and your plants. One good way to determine if the advice you are getting is coming from a dependable source would be to ask if they are growing the plant(s) themselves. By all means if you find someone you like (i.e. trust) make sure to have them assist you again in the future because they can save you a lot of grief and money.