Last... But Is It Least?
A Northscaper's Blog Entry by James Kohut
Picking Through The Garden Center Aftermath
As is typical at this time of year, the stock of plant inventory at the garden centers is visibly winding down. For most garden centers across the North, May and June are the big selling months; by the time July rolls around, the shelves are starting to empty, and of the plants still on the shelves, the pickings are getting slimmer and the varieties fewer.
So you as a summer-shopping gardener come along and are interested in buying a few of these varieties. Perhaps you have a last-minute niche to fill in the garden. Maybe your garden plan has finally come together and it's time to stock it with plants. Or, you see that the garden centers are starting to put stuff on sale and you want in on the deals. Whatever your reason, a question looms in your mind. Is it safe to buy the remaining plants at this time of year?
The best advice is to be a cautious buyer. Remember, it is in the garden center's best interests to clear out as much stock as possible by the end of the season, because they don't want to carry plant material over the winter (it is very expensive for them to over-winter plant stock). Given this, there are three primary reasons that they hold plant stock in the heat of summer; to have a reasonable selection of plants available for the late-season buyers, because they over-purchased inventory and/or had slow-moving varieties, and because the remaining plants were "picked through" by savvy early-bird gardeners.
It's the third reason that you need to be most careful of. Be sure to thoroughly inspect all plants at this time of year, looking for any evidence that you might be buying a plant that was rejected by countless gardeners before you. Sometimes it will be obvious; dead or generally unhappy foliage, empty spots, bare branches, poor form, etc. Other times, it can be a bit trickier to tell. For example, the plant may be root-bound in the pot. Or, it could be a bare-root plant potted in late spring that hasn't set root yet.
When it comes to plants that look like the runts of the litter, you can take a chance, but be aware that there is a diminished chance that they will perform or even survive. If they are on sale for 50% off or more, then it might be worth the gamble. If they're at full price or if you're absolutely counting on them to perform, then be quite discriminating in your selection.
If, on the other hand, these are just overstocked or slow-moving plants, then summer is as good a time as any to buy and to plant. Be prepared to water a little more on the hot days, but with container-grown plants, the transplant should go well. In fact, there's a hidden advantage to buying visibly healthy late-season plants; any "bad eggs" have usually already been culled, and the plants that remain into summer are actually more likely to survive than a random pick from the spring inventory. They may not be as bushy or have the perfect form, but this might be more than an acceptable trade-off for you.
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