GARDEN SHOPPING SAVVY
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Most who love gardening anxiously await those spring trips to their full service local garden center, nursery, or greenhouse. Go properly prepared and at the right times, and your visit should be more productive and pleasant.
The first step in preparing for your visit is to analyze your site, how much room you have for plants, and just where. This will help you and the assisting sales personnel pick the right plants for the right places. Photographs of your yard, notes, and even a landscape plan if you have one, will help. Properly match plants with their preferred ecological site and they will have a better chance of success, with less maintenance, and you'll have less preparation to do prior to planting.
Note if the sites are in sun or shade, and how many hours of sun each site might receive. What direction do the beds face? How much wind will the beds be exposed to? The latter is especially important when placing evergreen shrubs such as rhododendrons, which may dry out or "dessicate" more easily with winter winds.
If you don't know your soil type (sand or loam for instance), bring along a sample with you. If you haven't tested your soil in the past year or two for fertility, call to see if your garden store has soil test kits. These also are available from most state Extension services for a nominal fee, and provide recommendations in addition to results. Knowing these will help you plan what fertilizer you may need to purchase, and how much.
Just as you want to look around and take notes on your site before your visit, you'll want to do the same with your garden tools and supplies. Think about all you'll be doing in the garden, and whether you have all the soil, amendments, pots, twine, and many other supplies you'll need. I hate getting to the store and then trying to remember if I have something, or worse, getting home to find I need something and then having to make another trip right back!
If you are visiting a garden center later in the season, bring along any of your plant troubles. Place the affected leaf, twig, flower, or bug in a sealed plastic bag. Trained garden center professionals can tell better from the actual problem what caused it, and possible remedies.
Dress appropriately for your visit. Many garden stores may have wet soil or mulch, so it's best to leave the high heels and good footwear at home. Similarly, clothing might be snagged on twigs, so best to leave the business clothes and suits at home.
Drive sensibly, especially if you may be buying plants. Use the proper vehicle if you have a choice-- one with enough room, and one that you wouldn't mind getting slightly dirty. Many garden stores have plastic for the trunk, but you may want to bring your own, or a tarp. If your vehicle just wont do, shop at a garden center that will deliver.
You should be flexible in at least two respects. First, be flexible in your plant choices if you have some already picked out prior to your visit. Unless you know these plants to be proven for your area, and have done your homework on their requirements, they may not perform well or even survive.
Gardens in books and magazines may look great, and be good for ideas on color combinations, but often the plants shown may not all be hardy or look that great in your area. Tap the expertise at local nurseries and specialty plant producers. If they don't have the exact plant you are looking for, they just may have a similar substitute.
You should also be flexible in the timing of your visit. Try and avoid weekends when garden stores are busiest, especially in the spring. I like to shop on weekdays, and find the beginning of the weeks less busy. Since I like to be home working outside on nice days, I often try to visit garden stores on the cool and rainy days.
If you can't get there early in the day, try late in the day such as
during the dinner hour. Often garden stores are open later during
the spring. Arriving early or late are especially key to stress-free and
less crowded shopping during busy spring weekends.