How to Buy Discount Plants

Or, as I call them, the “poor, broken babies.”

I visit plant nurseries religiously throughout the summer; I love picking new flowers for my (full to bursting) garden. That said, my budget doesn’t always allow for buying everything I want to take home.

One way I’ve figured out to fill up my garden with pretty flowers is to buy from the discounted racks where they place plants that have either been nipped by frost, finished blooming and therefore look unsellable, or have some other issues (like a fungus or something). In honor of my sweet Grandma Noel, who passed away two years ago this month, I’m telling you my tips for buying the broken “bebes” as she called them.

I should note: I ain’t no horticulturalist. I’m telling you what’s worked for me. I took a garden from this…


…to this, with the promise of an even better year this year…


…but it took 5 years, some hard lessons, and a lot of patience (and no small amount of $, even if I did hunt for discounts and take plants from friends and family). So take my recommendations with a grain of salt and contact your local Extension (link here for East Tennessee) office if you need more help!

The first thing you need to know about buying discounted plants is this: big box stores  typically stock things when they are blooming and can be planted. This means that throughout the season, you’ll find things that are appropriate for you to plant at that time of the year and which probably grow well in your region. That said, some knowledge about what grows well in your region and when to plant is super necessary.

For example, I don’t buy bulbs in spring; bulbs bloom in spring and require the aftermath of a bloom to store up energy for the next spring. This is why you should never trim back your daffodil leaves as soon as the blooms are gone. They need to get some sun to store up energy for the next year. So, if you want blooms in the year in which you buy them, buy and plant bulbs in the fall for a springtime bloom.

Additionally, knowing that something does poorly in your area is also good. I’ve tried to grow lavender in East Tennessee, but without careful monitoring and lots of pruning to keep airflow going, they get rotty and die. (It’s also possible that they die in my garden because I have to water stuff around them and they prefer not to have “wet feet”.) I don’t buy them even if they’re discounted. So, go into your discount buying trip knowing what works and what doesn’t.

Armed with that knowledge? Here are my

Tips for Buying
Discounted Plants

1.Plant retailers like to sell things when they’re blooming, and will pull inventory when it has spent its blooms. If you know that something is a rebloomer, or you see lots of buds, it might be a good buy. If, however, you aren’t sure or think it might be a one-time bloomer, lay off. This weekend, I bought some discounted snapdragons. They had finished one round of blooming, but they bloom continuously throughout spring and summer if properly tended, so I went ahead. The discount? They went from $9.98 to $3.00 for 9 plants.

Now, like many annuals, snapdragons bloom from the bottom up, so some deadheading should make them branch out and flower again! I like to plant them in groups to get that bushy look sooner rather than later, and because I’ve learned through 5 years of planting that stuff spaced out by itself just doesn’t look as good as a mass planting does.

2. Know your perennials and annuals. Most of the time, the tag on the plant will tell you whether a plant is a single season plant (annuals) or will come back every year (perennial). It’s important to know this because it dictates what you look for. On an annual, follow the rules above: make sure the plant can be trimmed back and isn’t done blooming for the year. Which brings me to…

3. With a perennial, especially on one with spent blooms, look for healthy growth at the bottom of the plant. 

For example: I love the flowering perennial candytuft. It’s an early, one-time bloomer, and after it blooms, it mounds up into a nice, dark, evergreen groundcover that spills over rocks. Knowing this, I bought one for $3.00 instead of $6.95 this weekend.


Because this guy is a perennial, I looked for healthy, dark green growth at the bottom of the plant and didn’t worry about the fact that its blooms are spent for this year. This little guy will have all spring, summer, and early fall to put down deep, healthy roots and start spreading. In a couple of years, he’ll look like this.


Worth the $3.00 and the wait!

4. Know your biennials. Biennial plants bridge the gap between annuals and perennials; they take their first year to put down healthy roots and foliage, lay dormant over the winter, and then bloom in their second year. Typically, they die after that blooming season. Foxglove is one of these. If you see a blooming floxglove plant, it may not make it to your second season. If you want it as an annual, just to enjoy its blooms, then great. If you want it year after year, you’ll be disappointed.

This groundcover rose was $1 a couple of years ago and in PITIFUL shape…
…and this is last year.

Now, sometimes biennials reseed, so they can mimic a perennial if you plant it in a spot where you want to see it again. If you want this to happen, though, you’ll have to let the plant dry up and drop its seeds; this is not the course for a gardener who likes everything deadheaded all the time. So word of warning: biennials can be tricky buggers and feel like a great deal, but most of the time, they’re more of an annual situation. And with transplant shock, most don’t necessarily look that great after a transplant and may stop blooming. And, if you’re buying the discounted ones, the risk is even greater. With biennials, better to buy babies with no flowers for full price, or better yet, start your own.


5. This final tip is important: stop buying perennials in late summer. Perennials need time to set down roots and save up energy for the winter, plus those deep roots get them through the dry period at the end of the season.  If you plant them late, they’ll be just as susceptible to frost and drought as annuals. There is absolutely no point in buying late, end-of-season plants (unless you live in the deep South, in which case, most of these rules are flexible and lots of annuals act like perennials anyway). I stop buying in late July and instead, go internet shopping for bulbs!

So there they are, my tips for filling up your garden with discounted plants. Now, here’s the kicker: just like poor, broken people, poor broken plants need care and patience. Plant your broken babies with special care not to disturb their fragile root systems, water them in, and after a few days of care and watering, you can start tending them. Prune back dead stuff and give them room to spread, and they’ll pay you back with pretty blooms and serious bang for your buck!

And a final word of warning: spent blooms and frost bite are fine. FUNGUS, MOLD, OR ANY OTHER PLANT DISEASE IS NOT FINE and will ruin other plants in your garden if introduced. Make sure you know what happened to the plant. If you need to ask a sales associate, then so be it. Look up the name of the plant online, on your phone, in the store to see if there are photos online of possible diseases for that variety. Don’t bring it home and put it in your pretty space until you’re sure it just needs some amateur care, not a full-on plant doctor.

Okay guys! Happy discount hunting! And if you have friends who are starting gardens or are gardening on a budget, feel free to share this post or pin it on Pinterest using the image below!

Tips Pinterest Image