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Saturday, 18 February 2017

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

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 - 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?
If the compost is firm and moist, that's a good sign. If it's dry and loose, it's been infrequently watered and less well cared for. This makes for less healthy plants which might not grow as well as you would like. Weaker plants are also less resistant to pests and diseases. If they have been pruned, are the cuts nice and clean, or rough and torn? Poor pruning also increases the risk of disease and infection.

Dry, brown, dead - avoid!
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.

Hellebore "Christmas Rose" - Bargain!
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 flower before Christmas, so have finished now but 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 later in the year, so I'm confident I have bagged some bargains!

What's your best ever plant bargain? Use the comments box below to share it with us.

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