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.