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Tightening your purse strings and having to find out how to save money at the garden center doesn’t mean that the quality of your planting displays has to dip. Having a beady eye when you're out perusing the aisles, and knowing what to buy will ensure you bag the best bargains.
Garden centers can be expensive, with perennials often retailing at over 10 bucks each and the more expensive plants, like roses, for more than twice that. Trees and bamboos are often highly priced and the cost of ornate containers can be eye watering.
It’s easy to stack up a big bill at the checkout, despite feeling that you haven’t bought very much. Thankfully, there are lots of tips on how to save money at the garden center, to help with your cheap garden ideas when budgets are tight.
Discover how to save money at the garden center with these tips
If, like many plant enthusiasts, you find yourself overcome with excitement when you make trips to the garden center, you might benefit from some simple advice to find discounted or even free plants, to ensure you don't rack up a hefty bill when you reach the checkout.
Our 9 money-saving solutions will help you keep your budget in check.
1. Head for the seed section
‘You can fill a flower border without spending a ton of cash, by planting some annuals and perennials by seed,’ says Kier Holmes, author of new book Garden Refresh: How to Give Your Yard Big Impact on a Small Budget, available at Amazon. (opens in new tab) ‘Some are surprisingly fast and easy to grow, plus a packet of seeds is inexpensive. I love wildflower mixes that come in a can if you have a large area. My favorite plants to grow by seed are nasturtiums, California poppies, calendula, zinnias, cosmos, and columbines.’
Look for the best seed deals: for example, fiddleneck (Phacelia) is often sold in a big cheap packet as ‘green manure’ seed, because it nourishes the soil – but producing charming blue blooms that feed bees for months and make great cut flowers, it’s also a lovely ornamental wildlife plant.
Ensure you buy seed that is viable (capable of germination). The longer it’s stored and the hotter the place it’s stored in, the less likely it will be to grow, so avoid seed kept in a sun-baked glass-roofed garden center, especially if the packet’s coloring is faded from sitting in the sun.
You can then learn how to get free seeds after the growing season is over by collecting them from your spent flowers.
2. Buy baby plants
‘Buy your plants when they are smaller,’ recommend the experts at Hillier Garden Centres (opens in new tab). ‘Small pots of herbaceous perennials planted in the spring are cost effective, will offer intense color in the first summer and will then re-emerge and continue to increase in size over the following years.’ Look out for robust perennials for budget backyard ideas, such as nepeta and geum, in small pots in spring time.
Size matters when it comes to the cost of bedding plants too. ‘A good way to fill gaps or get some impactful containers on a budget is to start a little smaller as well,’ say Hillier, '20-packs of bedding have smaller individual plants than a 6-pack of bedding, but they will soon catch up.’
Traditional red geraniums, grown as houseplants or summer patio plants, are a great example of the best budget plants – keep your eyes peeled for trays of baby geraniums in springtime and pot them up at home to save lots of money.
3. Buy discounted plants
‘Look out for special offers from plant retailers,’ advises Peter Freeman, Product Development Manager for Dobies Garden Centres (opens in new tab). ‘Lucky dip collections mean you save money and time by letting the company choose your plants for you. You can also buy shrubs and perennials out of season for lower prices, when they are past their best for this year, in the knowledge that they’ll burst into life next season.’
Then take cuttings from your garden-center shrubs to multiply them and try them out as cheap garden edging ideas.
4. Take advantage of company perks
Find out what sort of rewards your local garden center offers its customers. For example, many will give a guarantee on hardy plants, which means you can take them back and get a refund if they fail. A great insurance policy for your investment!
And some garden centers offer a customer loyalty card or a membership, which will give discounts on purchases or a price reduction in the long run. There may even be the occasional giveaway which can make for an excellent free garden idea.
5. Choose large plants and divide them
Look out for perennials in store that can be separated to create new plants. ‘Another idea of how to save money at the garden center, is to buy plants in larger sizes and then divide them to make more plants,’ says Kier. ‘Daylilies and agapanthus are good examples.’ Crocosmia and aster are also easy to divide.
You can also buy plants that seed themselves, providing you with free plants year after year. They include columbine, rose campion, mountain cranesbill, Broussa mullein, foxgloves, purple top, and Mexican fleabane.
6. Buy bare root plants
Between fall and early spring, several plants are available to buy ‘bare root’ (without soil), which is cheaper and helps the plants to establish much quicker.
If you want to grow roses and trees, learning how to plant bare root plants is by far the best approach to get a good result. Look out for bare-root fruit trees and hedging plants, which are often sold in low-cost bulk bundles, and can be used as cheap landscaping ideas.
7. Choose quick-growing options
‘Create privacy quicker but still with a budget in mind by growing fast-growing plant varieties of evergreen vines and shrubs,’ suggests Kier. Birch trees, Clematis montana, rambling roses, star jasmine, passion flower, cherry laurel, buddleja, and bamboo are all examples of plants that grow fairly fast.
Some overly vigorous plants can be a problem further down the line, so make sure you’re not buying a monster for a tiny garden and (especially in the US) check the species is not an invasive plant in your area. Of course, avoiding slow-growing plants (such as Japanese maple trees) will save money in the short-term by avoiding the need to purchase temporary space-filling plants.
8. Select healthy plants
Check that the plant you’re buying is in a good state of health to ensure it survives once planted out and doesn’t introduce pests or diseases into your garden. The foliage should look healthy, there shouldn’t be moss growing on the compost, and, underneath, you don’t want to find slugs or yellow overcrowded roots. If the plant isn’t too heavy, remove the pot to check that the roots aren’t yellowed and coiling around and around the plant (which means it is ‘pot bound’).
Purchasing plants from the garden center that are hard to kill is a good way to save money long-term. For example, check that the plant is hardy in your area. If you live in a low-rainfall region or don’t want to water, select drought-tolerant plants (such as echinops). And – if you have a lot of slugs and snails – opt for things they avoid: such as hairy, thorny, poisonous, or aromatic plants (for example, lavender).
9. Join mailing lists
We know that endless marketing emails can be unwanted additions to our inboxes. However, when used correctly, i.e. by signing up to discount updates at the plant store, they can be yet another way of how to save money at the garden center. If you keep an eye out you could get away with never paying the full price for plants.
Hazel grew up watching and helping her green-fingered parents cultivate their town garden. She then studied horticulture and went on to work as a gardener and write about gardening for newspapers, such as The Guardian. Today, she enjoys contributing to brands, including Gardeningetc and Easy Gardens.
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