How to save money buying the right clearance priced perennials

It's the time of year when garden departments at the local home store are scaling back their inventory. Both perennials and annuals are on sale and you can find some amazing bargains if you know what to look for. I literally haunt the sale section of Lowes this time of year. At least half of my perennials were bought there at clearance prices over the years! Though it can be frustrating to wait till next year to see your plants at their finest, your finances will thank you!

Saving money on perennials.

There is a trick to buying clearance plants though. You don't want to buy something that you can't use or that is sickly or too root bound to recover. After all, many of these plants have spent way too long in tiny pots without fertilizer or proper care. 

On the flip side, as long as you can provide good care and get them in the ground soon enough to establish some roots before winter, they should wake up in spring like they never were neglected! You might even get a few blooms now. 

That's how I got the black eyed Susans that take over my patio planter every year. They were a pitiful blob of greens with 4 half dead flowers for $3 one September. Now I have them absolutely everywhere in my yard. 

I'm also a huge fan of buying tulips and daffodils right after Easter. They are often marked down to $1 a pot and are great to fill in areas with bulbs cheaply.

end of season plants

Of course this won't work for most annuals. Perennials though follow a pattern of growth and dormancy and as long as you get them in the ground and established before winters freeze, they'll do just fine....even if they seem a little unhealthy the day you buy them.

You'll want to check out the plants thoroughly before purchase though. Here is how I evaluate a plant to determine if it's a lost cause, or well worth the  price!

How to choose sale priced perennials

1. Strong and vigorous – Give the plant a quick shake. A plant that's unsteady in its pot may not have a well developed root system. Inspect the stem, it should be firm and not mushy feeling. 

2. Signs of insects – Look under the leaves and at the leaf axils (the place where the leaf attaches to the stem) where most often pests hang out. Shaking the plant slightly tells you whether the plant has Whiteflies that will scattered in every direction if the plant is infested. 

Look also for Aphids, Scale insects and Thrips. Do not purchase plants with insect activity, as not only will you have a problem with it, but you may also infest the other plants in your garden.

3. Unhealthy roots – If you can, take the plant out of the pot to check for crowded roots.  Roots come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They should always feel firm and not squishy. Squishy roots are a sign of root rot. Rotted roots smell so give them a sniff. Signs of rot smell like the sickly sweet smell of a rotting potato. 

4. Crowded roots – Root bound plants will require a bit more care when planting. Too tightly bound and you might not be able to save it without pruning the roots. Wiggle your fingers into the roots a little and see if they move and feel like they will loosen up easily. You might want to skip it if it's a tight ball.

5. Leaf spots, yellowed leaves, or abundant leaf loss  – Leaf spots can be a sign of disease or caused by the jostling of the plants in a garden center. A yellow leaf or two at the base of the plant is nothing to worry about.  If you see many yellow or fallen leaves, however, the plant's probably stressed and therefore not a good choice. 

Damaged leaves never recover, but it could be the plants natural behavior this time of year as some plants are already entering their dormant phase.

The plant can also be suffering from a lack of nutrients. While plants are shipped to the store in good health, they often do not receive fertilizer while they are there. This can understandably cause problems when the plant doesn't sell and spends weeks at the store.

6.  Leggy plants or brown leaf tips – These conditions are signs of a plant that has not received adequate care over a period of time.  Spindly plants indicate a lack of adequate light. This is when I turn to google for information on plants that I'm unfamiliar with. If it's known to be an easy care plant, then it's probably worth the money. If it's something that tends to be harder to raise (I'm looking at you roses!) the you might be better off passing on this one.

7. Smallish plants, stunted growth - Can be caused by not having enough room to grow in the tiny pot or lack of nutrients. Remember these plants are often potted at the very beginning of spring. They should have spent their whole summer in the ground and being stuck in the pot will have stunted their growth. 

Even though it's close to fall and they don't have much time to grow this year, they should be just fine next spring.

Shopping tips, perennials

Bonus tip: Choose plants within your skill level. For instance, I'm not a great root pruner so I avoid plants that might need a lot of root pruning. However I am pretty good with soil amendments so I can generally fix even severe nutrient deficiencies. 

Of course I'm also the lady that says "well for 2 bucks if I can fix it great and if not I haven't lost much" then I go 10 years never figuring out why 1 particular hydrangea hasn't flowered! lol

You'll want to get your plants in the ground as soon as you get them home so they can get started recovering from their rough summer! Don't overload them with nutrients or attention right away. All they need is a hole in the ground with lots of compost and some water.

Give it a few days and then evaluate what needs done to get them back to health before winter. 

Even though there is very little chance these clearance rack plants will even bloom again this year, you will have a perfect specimen come spring...for a fraction of the price!

Related reading: Want more information on gardening? Check out my collection of articles on gardening.


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  1. This is a great time of year to find some clearance plants! Great tips for helping people save money without buying a plant that is destined to die no matter what you do. Thanks so much for sharing on Farm Fresh Tuesdays!

  2. These are great tips for buying plants any time of year. Always check your plants thoroughly before buying. You never know what you might be taking home.