No one wants to look like an amateur, but unless the professionals clue you in on their process, there’s a long road of trial and error ahead of you.
Let’s fast-track that process, shall we? Here’s the exact system we use for shopping at our local Garden Center nurseries. Implement these strategies and you’ll stretch your dollar and look like a pro while doing it!
Step #1: Create A Plan BEFORE Heading to the Garden Center Nursery
You play a dangerous game waltzing into a plant nursery without a game plan! You’ll inevitably find yourself heading to the cash register with a shopping basket (or cart!) full of lovely things, and no real plan to care for them once they make it through your door. Creating a game plan before you shop will save you time, money, and arm you with the know-how necessary to keep your plants alive. Here are some things to consider as you draft your plan:
Location Is Everything
Where will you put your newly purchased plants? Will they live inside your home or be planted outdoors? If their final destination is outside, either ensure the temperature is warm enough for them to survive the elements or provide an indoor holding area until the threat of frost has passed.
Before you go shopping, find out how much sun your anticipated growing area gets. Knowing how many hours of daily, direct sunlight your balcony or garden bed receives will inform which plants will thrive in the space you have. Sun loving plants like tomatoes, peppers, and Mediterranean herbs require anywhere from 8-12 hours of direct sunlight for optimal production. Offering them less sunlight than they require will result in diminished production and increased disease outbreak, an easily preventable problem if you create a plan before shopping at your Garden Center nursery.
After you nail down the location for your garden and its sun exposure, write a list of your high-priority plants. These are the ones that you absolutely want to grow this year. As you create your shopping list, be sure to note the quantity of each plant that you need to purchase.
Anticipate an Impulse Purchase
Once you know your garden’s sun exposure and the amount of space remaining after your high-priority plants are purchased, you can realistically determine whether you can accommodate impulse purchases should inspiration strike while inside the Garden Center nursery.
I actually recommend a growing gardener give in to the occasional unplanned plant purchase. Doing so broadens the scope of your growing experience through the allure of curiosity, making it more likely that you’ll stick with it! Whether the plant lives or dies is largely irrelevant: the thrill (and occasional terror) of learning something new? That’s the good stuff, right there.
Gather Your Supplies
The last step in preparing for your shopping trip is gathering the supplies you’ll need for your new plants. Here’s a good start:
- Planters and potting mix if you’ll be growing in containers.
- Any amendments or fertilizers needed to optimize your soil
- Trellises/support systems (if necessary)
- Plant labels for easy identification
If you are shopping several weeks before you plant outside, you may wish to add some grow lights to your list to ensure your plants continue to develop while you wait for warmer weather. Collecting your supplies beforehand allows your brain to further define your growing goals while gathering the resources needed to convert those goals into a thriving reality.
Step #2: Shopping Day
Armed with your gardening game plan and shopping list, it’s time to confidently shop the Garden Center nursery. Here’s how to make the most of your time and money while there.
Shop During the Week
Fewer crowds means less stress, resulting in smarter purchases. With fewer people browsing the same selection of plants, you are more likely to take your time and make smart purchases instead of pressure-driven ones. As an added bonus, restocking shipments come in during the week, giving you first choice amongst the new arrivals. Shopping the latest shipment will often give you access to the freshest plants!
Bring a Friend!
New to the garden scene? Grab a gardening buddy and head to the store together. Trust me, any gardener will be thrilled for an excuse to peruse some plants with you! Experienced gardeners can often spot the healthiest plants and explain what they look for when selecting their own. Plus, they’ll be able to offer assistance throughout the growing season if you bump into problems along the way.
Pick the Healthiest Plant
This seems rather obvious, but you’d be surprised how many shoppers simply select the first plant in the row and call it a day! Here are some things to look for as you shop for the healthiest selection:
- Strong and upright stems. A healthy and robust stem is going to determine the overall strength of your plant.
- Root system. Are the plant’s roots growing through the bottom of its container? If so, it will need to be transplanted quickly into a new home that allows its roots to stretch and develop.
- Is it flowering or “going to seed”? If a plant is stressed, it tends to rush its life cycle so it can quickly produce seeds before its death. When shopping for herbs or vegetables, grab a plant that hasn’t yet produced flowers. Although it can seem like you’re getting a jump on your season, those flowers may be the result of a stressed plant trying to leave its legacy before it dies.
Description Tag with Care Summary
The description tag tucked in the plant is your best guide for in-the-moment purchasing decisions. It provides a summary of information you’ll need for determining whether or not it’s a wise purchase for your goals. The description tag often includes:
- Name of the variety
- Hours of sunlight needed
- Hardiness Zones
- The height of the fully matured plant
If there’s a tie: go with a native plant
Native plants are naturally adapted to withstand local weather, diseases, and pests. They also are a major contributor to your local ecosystem and play a massive role in creating thriving populations of pollinators and beneficial organisms for your garden.
Step #3: Tips for Care at Home
This is the exciting part! Your gardening goals are becoming a reality, and your excitement is absolutely justified! Following these final steps will ensure you get the best start with your new plants.
- Some Garden Center nurseries will place your purchased plants inside a cardboard tray to minimize the mess as you drive home. However, bringing some leftover Amazon boxes and lining your trunk with tarp will go a long way in mitigating messes.
- If not planting immediately, make sure your new plants have access to strong and consistent light.
- When transplanting, it’s a good idea to offer water immediately after situating them in their new home. Think of it as a housewarming gift! The plant’s relocation from its previous potted home can be stressful, and watering it in will encourage it to settle and stretch its roots.
Your Next Steps
Avoiding amateur mistakes when shopping for plants will jumpstart your momentum for a successful growing season. By implementing these strategies, you will save money while getting the best transplants on the market, and before you know it, it will be your advice your friends seek the next time they visit the Garden Center nursery.
Related: Designing Your First Garden
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