End of Season Plant Sales

The good, the bad and the ugly

Those end of season plant sales can be very exciting. The prices are so great, you can finally fill all those “holes” in your landscape.  But how can you tell if a great price is also a great value? Here are a few things to consider.

Make sure the plant in question matches the planting conditions you have, is hardy in your zone and will fit into your landscape. Its not a bargain no matter the price if you can’t grow it well in your yard.

While you can expect some leaf and branch damage by the end of the season, wilting or burned plants, or rotting ones, that have obviously not been cared for are risky. Extremely stressed plants may not survive in spite of your best TLC.

Don’t be surprised if perennials have been cut back. The stems may be shorter but they should still be intact. A gentle tug may tell you if stems are rotting. The exception to this are spring ephemeral perennials that are going dormant. These may have naturally lost many of their stems making it a bit more difficult to access the health of the plant. Nursery staff should be able to tell you if a plant is a spring ephemeral.

Check carefully for any pests or diseases you do not want to introduce into your garden. In some cases this can include noxious weeds (Hairy Bittercress – I’m looking at you!).

Don’t be afraid to carefully slip the plant from its pot and check the root system. There should be evidence of live roots. At the end of the season, you can expect some root wrapping around the pot edges, but if a plant is extremely root bound and feels hard as a brick, consider carefully. You will need to cut and tease those roots out in order to plant properly. This is difficult with extremely root bound plants.

Be aware that clearance plants may not have the same warrantee as full price plants, best to check with the nursery.

Try to plant your finds as soon as possible so they can begin establishing themselves. Mulch them, but do not fertilize.  You may be able to divide some perennials that have been growing in a pot all season when you plant.

Be sure to keep the plants watered throughout the fall.  Squirrels are notorious for digging up transplants in the fall so keep an eye out. Sometimes fall planted specimens are more susceptible to frost heave so be prepared to tuck them back in during winter thaws if need be.

Want more information? Check out this Penn State article.

Penn State Extension – Garden Bargain or Bust?

Plant Profile: Rudbeckia laciniata

A tall, native coneflower

Rudbeckia laciniata is commonly known as cut leaf coneflower or green headed coneflower.  It is a stately native perennial that can reach 9 feet tall under the right conditions but generally grows 5-7 feet tall. Its preferred location is full to part sun in moist soil. It naturally occurs in moist woodland clearings or along stream beds. It is adaptable to average garden soil, but may wilt during periods of drought without supplemental water.

Like many plants, there are both pros and cons to adding Rudbeckia laciniata to your garden.

On the positive side, this rudbeckia provides plenty of sunny flowers and has a long 2 month bloom time – July through September.  The size and bright coloration of this plant creates a strong accent in the garden at a time when some other perennials are starting to wane.

The flowers are attractive to bees (both native and domesticated) and butterflies, providing a late season nectar source.  They have attractive seed heads and the flower seeds provide food for finches in the fall.  This coneflower is generally pest and disease resistant and can handle hot, humid summer weather.  It is considered deer and rabbit resistant.

Because of its tolerance for moist soil and periodic flooding, it is a good plant for flood prone areas or rain gardens. Given space, it can create a (very tall!) groundcover. The root structure provides good erosion control.

However (here come the cons), in moist sunny areas this coneflower can spread somewhat aggressively by underground rhizomes. Plants should be edged or divided in spring to control the spread.

In fertile soils, more shade or windy areas the plants will probably need staking to keep it upright. 

While the plants will probably survive drought, the lower leaves will droop and brown. Drought stress can occasionally result in powdery mildew.

If you can give this plant a bit of moisture and some room to grow, it might be a great addition to a pollinator friendly landscape.

Want more information? Here are some links:

Missouri Botanical Garden plant profile – Rudbeckia laciniata

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center –  Rudbeckia lancinata