Plant Sale - Should you buy from the garden centre bargain bin?

Garden centre Clearance bargains Green Fingered Blog
How do you make sure that a bargain really is a bargain?

We all love a bargain, so when you spot a section of reduced price plants in the garden centre, as I did this week, you might think you are saving money by snapping them up, or you might shun them through fear of wasting your hard earned cash on the gardening equivalent of a clapped out second hand car that lets you down a week after you get it home. So are they worth the risk? How do you know you won't regret it later? Here are a few questions you should ask yourself...
Let's assume that you are not thinking of taking home the plant purely because it was £25 and is now £5. Let's take it as read that it's a plant you like, you have a space in your garden for, and you will be able to provide it with suitable conditions in which it should thrive. If this is the case, ask yourself:
Why is it reduced?
Try and work out why they are offering them at such a good price. There are several possible reasons: 
Excess stock - retailers have to order stock in advance and can't always get it right. They may have simply overestimated demand for one variety and have leftovers that they can't sell without discounting them.
Out of season - partly related to the first point, because they need space for new incoming stock, and will want to update stock regularly. With plants, many will be past their best once their primary season has finished. Some plants simply don't look as appealing when they have finished flowering, and therefore don't sell as well and command a lower price.

Marketing - for a variety of reasons, plants may be discounted simply as a promotion, to encourage people to visit the garden centre, or to buy from particular suppliers. This is retailers way of influencing what consumers spend their money on. 

Mis-shapes and misfits - Some plants end up in the clearance section because they have grown an odd shape. They may be lop sided or leaning over. They may have been stuck at the back of the display for too long and not grown a nice uniform shape. This puts lots of people off, so they end up being reduced. They can still be healthy plants and real bargains. It's up to you whether you want them that shape or not.

Poor condition - Of course if plants are damaged or poor quality they can be reduced in price to try and sell them anyway. These are the ones that are not always worth taking home, even if they're cheap. But how do you know which ones will turn out to be bargains and which will end up in the bin? Ask yourself these questions:

What should this plant look like at this time of year?
Acer palmatum Clearance bargain Green Fingered Blog
Acer palmatum - boring looking bargain!

Trees lose their leaves in autumn, perennials die back in winter, some shrubs and roses benefit from hard pruning and in early spring many plants are little more than a root ball and don't lend themselves to high prices. Appearance is often valued more than potential. Plants often decline in appearance after flowering, having used up their energy, and some enter a dormant period, shed leaves, or fade in colour. None of these are necessarily reasons to avoid buying them.  Provided they've been cared for and are in good condition, they'll come back next year, so take them home, give them the conditions they need, look after them and they'll reward you. By buying them out of season, you'll have saved money compared to the cost of buying them at their peak.
Am I buying problems or potential?
You should definitely check plants for damage, disease and pests. Cuts to stems can harbour disease, although you might be able to remove the danger by pruning once you get it home. But rust, mould or mildew might be problematic and could be the reason for the discounted price in the first place, so if you see signs of these, or of insects, don't take the risk. It's only a bargain if it's healthy! Weeds are not a worry for the health of the plant, but you might be introducing new types of weed into your garden by taking them home. Lots of weeds growing in the pot also suggest a poorer quality compost, or lack of attention whilst on display, meaning it might not be quite as good a buy as at first sight.
How well has it been looked after?
Of course, sometimes there are dry, withered, terrible looking specimens that shouldn't really be on sale at all, but are on offer for just a few pence. Despite costing almost nothing, these are a waste of those pennies, as they are virtually dead, and unlikely to be revived no matter how much TLC you give them.

Garden centre clearance bargains Green Fingered Blog
Dry, brown, dead - avoid!

If the compost is firm and moist, it's a good sign. If it's dry and loose, it may be less well cared for, meaning less healthy plants that may not grow as you'd like. Weaker plants are less resistant to pests and diseases. If it's been pruned, are the cuts nice and clean, or rough and torn? Poor pruning also increases the risk of disease and infection.

The clearance section is often appealing, but think: why are they there, what could be wrong with them, and is it something you are prepared to put up with. But it's perfectly possible to find strong healthy plants at reduced prices. In case you were wondering, I bought a Japanese Maple for £6 that was previously £20, and three Hellebores for £4 each, instead of £8 each. I can only assume that they were reduced because of the time of year. The hellebores have healthy looking leaves, and the acer has no leaves at the moment, and looks pretty boring, but has signs of budding new growth ready to unfurl soon, and appears in good condition, and will look amazing next year, so I'm confident I have bagged some bargains!

Garden centre clearance bargains Green Fingered Blog
Hellebore "Christmas Rose" - Bargain!
What's your best ever plant bargain? Use the comments box below to share it.

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My Random Musings


  1. Hmm, interesting. I have never bought a plant from the reduced section at a garden centre. I regularly buy reduced food and reduced clothes and well reduced everything to be honest, but my balcony is small and gives me great pleasure. I want it to look great all of the time, so when plants are out of season or no longer flowering I dig them out of the pots and put them in the gardens of our communal flats. None of my neighbours has complained - quite yet. Pen x #AnythingGoes

    1. I think the idea of a plant dying puts people off even taking a chance, but if it's only a few quid it's no big deal. And if you choose carefully it's no more of a risk than buying any other plant at any other time. Keeping your balcony looking good all year sounds like an quite an ambition - hopefully there's some useful ideas elsewhere in the blog which might help, and I'll try to bear in mind for future posts too - I'm sure plenty of people have the same challenge. Thanks for commenting, check back soon!


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