Why are plants put in clearance?
Just like shoes or books, plants are clearanced for several reasons. Nurserymen try to guess the interest of the buying public, but flowers don't always sell as anticipated. That must have been the case last fall when my store had a table full of perennial Montauk daisies for 50 cents each. Sellers like to keep displays attractive by weeding out the odds and ends, especially in big, high volume stores. Some plants are just showing the strain of less than ideal care, and others take a tumble and get a little smashed.
This Nipponanthemum nipponicum has come through the winter looking happy. It may have been on sale simply because none were in bloom at the right time in the nursery.
What to look for
Special stickers or signs will draw your attention to the discount greenery. These cheap plants might be labeled and left in their display area, especially if there is a large quantity offered, or they may be moved to a separate rack. I often find the rejects at the back of the outdoor garden department or greenhouse. Make a habit of checking that sale cart at each visit; you'll become familiar with typical offerings and how quickly they may change. Orchids whose flowers have dropped, for example, are clearance "frequent flyers" in a store I visit. In their small pots, they still seem pricey. Some day I'll learn about their special needs and bring one home for the challenge of nurturing it back into bloom.
I had just read an interesting article about Sanseverias by palmbob
when I found this huge but slightly damaged one at half price.
I dressed it up in a new basket and found it a perfect spot in my home.
Occasionally you may find a rack full of apparent rejects still sporting their full-price stickers. Find a manager and ask about it. She may not have had time to retag the pots after pulling them from the regular display. Recently my smile and innocent inquiry were rewarded with this delightful response: "Those roses? Take them all, for a dollar apiece! Give them to all your neighbors! Get them OUT OF HERE!" I would suggest that you're more likely to find the manager in a pleasant mood and with time to chat (or even bargain) at off-peak hours, rather than on a crazy Saturday morning at the height of planting season.
Glossy, perfect, un-blackspotted foliage on a one-dollar rose bush
Good buys by the season
Spring - Good bets are forced daffodils, lilies and hyacinths. Give the bulbs good care at home, letting the foliage grow. Although I did not really need more "Tete a Tete" daffodils, I almost bought a few pots of them for one dollar each, just to get the plastic pot and pretty gift foil for later reuse.
Summer - Find annuals, perennials, foliage and shrubs overstocked or slightly damaged, or six-packs with an empty or dead cell.
Fall - In early fall, get the last of the perennials; you still have time to plant. Watch them over winter to push them back into the soil if heaved. Consider cannas and other tropicals that you can allow to go dormant and store over the winter. Later, browse bulbs and check out the shrubs and trees before they get tossed to make way for Christmas merchandise. Here's what I did with my clearance hyacinth bulbs last fall.
Throughout the year - Indoor plants and tropicals come and go; you might find one suffering from mild mistreatment or leaf loss. Shop for gift plants marketed especially for a holiday. Once that holiday has passed, so has the chance that a customer will pay the premium price.
A marked-down Kalanchoe tomentosa "Golden Girl" was unfamiliar to me.
I loved it, but an unenlightened store clerk may have looked at the markings and thought it was sick.
What to avoid
Now I don't recommend that you scoop up every cheap perennial or shrub you can fit in your vehicle. If that's what you're considering, I would advise you to first read this entertaining article by JaxFlaGardener. You'll either change your mind or feel reassured that you're "not alone."
Don't bring home disease or insects. Refuse a specimen with anything fuzzy, slimy, or crawling on any part of the plant or its soil.
Don't buy it if you can't care for it. Try to be realistic about whether you're ready to commit to caring for your new acquisition at short notice. I was kicking myself last year when my half price shrubs sat in the hot sun and had their roots burned in the pots.
Don't buy a struggling plant and count on its immediate recovery. Some may bounce back with a drink of water, but generally assume these things have been stressed. After all, if they had been flying off the shelves fresh from the grower they wouldn't have ended up on sale. Give adequate care, or TLC if you can, to encourage fresh growth.
Is this for "green thumbs" only?
Nope. I'm not familiar with every plant I buy. But I am more willing to take a chance on a new plant at one dollar than five, five dollars than ten. And I can read comments and feedback on virtually any plant when I log on to Dave's Garden. Maybe you'll research and then run back before the bargains are all snatched up. I'll admit to one blunder- I spent a mere seven dollars on a hearty winterberry holly, only to find out from Dave's Plantfiles that I had a male cultivar of the bush and would get no berries. I'll share the blame for that mistake on the nursery tag with the big picture of the fruit. Overall, my marked-down purchases have recovered well and proven to be fine additions to my stock.
Do I always buy on clearance? No. For example, I always splurge on a flat of fall pansies from a nearby, independent nursery. Richardson's Nursery pansies, like everything they sell, appear well cared for and grow beautifully for me.
Are you willing to water, remove a few crushed leaves or broken stems, be patient and cross your fingers? Buying tropicals or landscape material from a nursery clearance rack can be a cheap yet successful way to fulfill your need for a variety of green things to nurture, learn about and enjoy.
All of the pictures for this article were taken by me at my house. All are items bought on clearance except the pansies.