(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 27, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Big Box Garden Centers
As every gardener knows, big box stores are experts at driving plants to the edge of life. If you have patience and a couple dollars to gamble on your skill, this can be a year round way to thriftily garden. However, toward the end of the growing season, most box stores are even more neglectful and sparing with water. This creates a clearance rack chock full of good deals on plants that just need a little T.L.C. While the end of summer clearances at big box stores are good, they can be hit or miss and by far are not the best way to thrifty garden as temperatures cool.
Local or Family Owned Retailers
Smaller plant retailers and family owned nurseries can be an excellent place to get end of summer steals. Smaller businesses take pristine care of their plants during the growing season and sell at higher prices, however toward the end of the summer their priority is to clear space for winter sowing and eventually new stock. What this means for you is that plants that are still in excellent shape will be offered at discounted prices.
What’s there to lose? Locally owned businesses are an excellent way to get a cheap, well cared for plant. If you plant the inexpensive perennials you find in the ground now, they will look even better next year and already be established in your garden.
Online Mail-order Retailers
A favorite of many gardeners is the end of season sales of online plant retailers. Since many of these businesses don’t have storefronts, clearing stock at the end of the season becomes priority. Some tips for finding good sales are to search for smaller, family owned online retail stores. Unlike smaller companies, the bigger, more lucrative online retailers can afford to lose the un-purchased stock and mostly don’t sow their own plants from seed.
While there are many good deals on the internet, not all companies offer end of summer sales, so shop around!
Beware: Watch for red tape and annuals
As with any discounted product, there are some risks involved. Steer clear of most any annuals. They may seem like a good deal, but at the end of the season annuals will become leggy and are much harder to overwinter than perennials. The exception to this rule is any fall-thriving annuals such as ornamental kale, pansies, or chrysanthemum, which generally won’t be as discounted anyway, if at all.
Shipping charges from websites can also increase at the end of the season. In addition, return and refund policies can also be different during clearance sales. Be careful to read the fine print and be aware of shipping charges before you submit any final online order.
Sometimes bugs can also be an issue with mail order plants toward the end of summer as the weather cools. Be sure to check the Garden Watchdog before you make any mail order purchases.
End of season sale shopping can be a fun and cheap way to fill your garden with beautiful plants. Keep an eye out year round for discounts…but keep those eyes WIDE open at the end of summer.