Gardening Basics: Secrets From the Garden Center

Shop confidently for flowers and shrubs at the garden center. Industry experts reveal the gardening basics to a better buying experience.

Do Your Homework and Come Prepared

Gardening Basics: Secrets from the Garden CenterPerlphoto/
Make a list of plants before going shopping

Before you head out the door, do your homework. Jennifer Youngquest, director of marketing for English Gardens in West Bloomfield, Michigan, suggests signing up for store newsletters. “Many garden centers send newsletters via snail mail or email that are filled with ideas, new products and promotions,” she says.

Simply by joining a store’s garden club or e-newsletter list, you’re privy to special deals and insider information. If you already receive the newsletter, pay closer attention to it. Some offer incentives like coupons for $10 off a $50 purchase. It’s also a good way to find out more about the store, its layout and its policies.

Before you go, make a detailed list and stick to it. Garden centers bank on impulse buys—seeing all those beautiful flowers prettily packaged after a long winter is like grocery shopping on an empty stomach. But if you stick to your list, you’ll be more likely to come home with exactly what you need.

If you have a lot of questions or need some personal shopping help, Jennifer suggests calling ahead to make an appointment with a sales associate. “Many customers are able to get free gardening advice and one-on-one attention that way,” she says.

To be extra prepared, make sure you’re not making these new gardener mistakes. And, here’s what you need to know before you buy indoor plants online.

Use Technology to Save Money

Social media, gardening apps and online tools have made shopping simple. Lisa Pasquesi of Pasquesi Home & Gardens in the Chicago area suggests doing some online research before you shop. “Many garden centers provide a plant finder on their websites so that customers can search the database, narrow down their choices and ultimately save time at the garden center. With just a few clicks of the mouse, you can customize your shopping experience with the right plants for the right places in your yard.”

Using social media to your advantage is also a smart move. “Every month at Pasquesi, we feature something different on sale,” says Lisa. “The most timely way to get the word out is via social media.

“We also run certain coupons or contests for one outlet versus another, so it’s important to subscribe to all areas. A few months back, we had a $500 gift card giveaway on Facebook, and on email, we gave out a coupon for those that joined our email club. These are simple ways to get great deals for free!”

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Choose the Right Plants for Your Landscape

Garden Centerskhoward/Getty Images
Potted plants for sale at a garden center

Finally, it’s time to head to the garden center. But with so many eye-catching new plants vying for a place in your garden, it’s important to make good choices.

Though it may sound obvious, the pros say that not everyone reads the tags before buying. Stores put out pots of gorgeous plants in prominent places, but before you add them to your cart, make certain they fit your growing conditions and available space when mature. When buying trees and shrubs, choose those on the smaller side. You’ll enjoy watching them grow, they’re easier to transport and plant—and they’re cheaper.

Pay attention to quantities. Certain items, like compost, soil and grass seed, make sense to buy in bulk rather than in bags. (You might be able to get ripped bags at a discount if you ask.) Same goes for flats of plants that you know you and your friends or neighbors can share. Buying in larger quantities usually saves you money. You might even negotiate a discount if you buy a lot of a particular plant or item.

When it comes to certain plants, it’s a good idea to buy in small quantities and to get only what you need. If you only want a few tomatoes, just buy a few tomatoes. When buying perennials, pick up a small pot instead of a gallon. They cost half as much and will usually take just a season to catch up in your garden. By next spring they’ll be happy, healthy and well established. Also, many potted perennials, such as hostas, can be divided right away when you buy them. That could give you as many as four plants for the price of one.

Get to Know the Staff

Black woman carrying flowersAriel Skelley/Getty Images
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and talk to the garden center staff

Never underestimate the importance of being nice to the staff. Apart from the benefits of talking to someone with shared interests, you’ll learn when to get deals. Ask questions of the staff, tell them about your garden, and they might let you in on a few local secrets—not to mention that it’s nice to see friendly faces when you shop.

While you’re chatting, ask a staff member about the store’s delivery times. Inquire when new products come in and when plants are due to arrive, Jennifer says. “Most stores are on a schedule of shipments, and you’ll get first choice. Often they will even call you when they arrive, if you ask,” she adds.

Going to the garden center should be a fun, relaxing and enjoyable experience. And if you do your homework and come prepared, you’ll save money, too!

Check out 25 secret garden tips we learned from grandma.

More Garden Center Shopping Tips

  • Dress comfortably and wear sensible shoes.
  • Shop during the off hours, such as weekday evenings.
  • Use the staff to your advantage. Ask questions—they are there to help.
  • Check the clearance section for perennials that have finished flowering. With a little TLC, they’ll be great next year for a fraction of the cost.
  • Visit often. You’ll notice patterns in sales and shipments, and clearance markdowns.
  • Check the label before you buy. The flowers might be gorgeous, but make sure you have the right spot to plant them at home.
  • Did you know many plant nurseries post coupons via email or social media? Get on the e-list and you won’t miss out!

Next check out the best websites for buying flower bulbs online.

Crystal Rennicke
Crystal Rennicke is a freelance writer and editor from Wisconsin. Previously she worked as a senior editor for Birds & Blooms and has written about a number of topics for the brand, including how to grow a chemical-free garden, the mental and physical health benefits of gardening, and berry plants you can grow in pots. Rennicke is fascinated by the journey of the monarch butterfly and her bucket list includes a trip to their wintering grounds in Mexico.