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What to look for and do when bargain plant shopping.
July 28, 2008

After a refreshing three days at the Gingerbread house (B&B), it is back to reality for Karen and me.

Back to reality.

Oh well, the brief time away is always refreshing and nothing seems to sleep better than home.

We always enjoy our time on the shores of Northern Lake Michigan. The air is a little cooler and fresher. The water is more aqua and blue.

The night skies, for sure show more stars.

Akita and Ziggy the poodle pup were glad to see us.

They spent some time with our oldest girl and grandkids.

After all the excitement, they took a long Sunday nap.

I am a bit stressed, however (understatement of the year).

Our neighbor was supposed to water the potted plants etc. while we were gone as we do for them.

Nothing like coming home to wilted plants and a big mess.

First thing I did was water while Karen was unpacking.

I bit my tongue, but they will not be given the chance to water anymore.

Any way.........................

Up North........................

We enjoyed some nice quiet time , had some time with friends and made some new friends.

All at a bed and breakfast, in Petoskey, Michigan.

Sure there is shopping time for Karen, but I enjoy nature and the wildlife.

Nature can be a sunset, waves lapping the shore, deer crossing a street and much more.

Sandhill cranes will stop traffic, even when they are walking a field and ditch line. Its not like I get to see these big beauties everyday.

Last Tuesday, I had the chance to watch the fledgling ret-tail hawks in the back 40 of the garden center.

She was squawking up a storm and out of no where, mom came flying in with something clutched in her talons.

I could see a dangling tail, so I was guess a rat or small snake.

Perched in a snag (dead tree) was the youngster and mom came flying in, but on a different branch.

The young hawk went flying up to mom but missed the exchange.

The evening meal dropped into the tall grass and weeds below.

The fledgling went down to find supper, but came back empty clawed.

Just like that she went crying to mom and mom took off to hunt some more.

I went to check things out and found a half eaten, mangled carcass of a rat.

I placed in on a fence post hoping the young hawk would find it later on.

Because of my few days off, I have no idea if the rat morsel was taken or not.

One fledgling this year instead of two or three as in years past, tells me that food is lean

A half eaten rat means mom had to feed as well and that confirms that the hawks are having a difficult time this year.

"Nature's" checks and balances.

Bad with the good or visa versa.

A "Gardening for Wildlife" welcome to all the new readers.

Stick around, I promise you will learn something once in a while and maybe be entertained as well.

This is your newsletter, feel free to write me with comments, questions and suggestions.

I will get back with you.

It's late July and early August (Where does the time go?).

Veggie gardens are really hitting their stride.

Your annuals should be looking mighty fine as they continue to grow and bloom.

Perennial gardens are looking good, though you may notice some die back from early bloomers.

Just when you think it is time to really sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor, it is time to go shopping.

I know, thinking about next year,s gardens when we are in the dog days of summer.............

I doesn't seem right does it?

However, now is the time to think some on next year's gardens.

Box stores and many garden centers are marking things down now to make room for other things or to reduce inventory.

For box stores, it is in and out.

Often this includes some huge discounts.

Garden centers and nurseries are slow to mark downs most of the time. And why not, it is their business, not a quick sale. But, you can still find some "GREAT" deals at garden centers.

I should know, I'm one of the guys that gets to mark things down (I also get some good deals).

Okay, lets go shopping and let an expert assist you in what to look for.

You may need to read this a second time to get the jest of everything.

Happy hunting.

Your at Wal-Mart, Meijer, Lowes or some other box store.

You see a sign that reads perennials 50% off or this table only 75% off etc.


What a deal you say to yourself and start grabbing this plant and that plant.

How can I go wrong if all I pay is $2.00 for a plant.

Better yet, I just bought some starter perennials (where I work) for 25 cents each.

Next year, they should look wonderful for me.

Now that's a deal.

Or is it?

Okay, if they all die, I'm out a couple of bucks.

If they live, I'm way ahead of the game.

But, did I bring home a virus or something else?

Ah, but I'm in the business and I've been gardening for longer than I care to remember.

There was some die back, but the plants looked rather healthy for this time of year.

Roots looked good, the crown was healthy.

What more could I ask for right?

Maybe, maybe not.

How about you and I go for a cruise through the garden center or box store and find some bargains.

Often a healthy plant may look like it is on deaths door. Educating yourself on a plant's habits comes into play.

An example might be this:

Oriental poppies die back after bloom but will show new growth later this year. (Try selling a plant that looks like it is dying.)

Other plants put so much effort into blooming that afterwards, they look terrible for a couple of months.

Monarda can look like 10 miles of bad road after blooming, but under the ground new roots and runners are growing for next year.

Penstimen, Stokesia and a host of perennials look like a bunch of beat up nothing after they bloom.

Is it a healthy plant or something the store is trying to get a fast buck for?

The best way to tell if a plant is healthy is to check below the surface.

To go under ground, you must take the pot and squeeze it all around.

Now, gently tip the pot over and remove the plant dirt and all from the pot.

Do you see some white or light colored roots growing around or do roots look black and shrinking?

Does the soil smell like soil or does it have a rotten smell.

What about the base or the crown of the plant? The crown is where growth emerges, if a crown is snapped or rotting, leave it alone.

Even if a plant is dying back for the year, there should be signs of a healthy crown. A crown that shows some green and swollen, full of life.

Plants like Monarda should show life throughout the pot as runners and roots are growing and pushing out from within.

A weak or sick plant may show signs of decay within the roots and the soil may have a nasty oder.

Poke around some more and you may find some newer white root growth and a healthy crown this is good.

You may also find a weak or rotting crown.

A bad crown means a bad plant, leave this one alone.

Dead and dying foliage...........................................

This could be a normal cycle of the plant.

It could be the plant is going dormant or dying from lack of water.

It could be the plant has a disease or fungus.

Check out the root stock and the crown.

Now check for any lesions, spots or other tell tale sign of a sickness.

The plant may have a clean bill of health.

It may have a simple fungus that is treat-able or something that may spread throughout (rarely the case).

Now you must decide if it is worth trying to save or the risk involved.

Most plant fungus are air borne and proper location, air circulation and watering habits all play a roll in a healthy plant.

I must tell you, I do take sick plants home and plant them in a quarantined area, because I enjoy the challenge.

I get a kick out of getting things to grow and live that might otherwise die.

I get a bigger kick out of planting things from seed and watching them grow.

If you have the what for to take on a sick plant. than by all means do so.


Here is a fun part of all of this.

Finding a sales clerk or someone to talk to.

"You know, this plant is really beat up."

"This plant has a disease."

"Look, the foliage is turning brown."

"What can you do for me on this plant?"

"If I buy all of these, what can you do for me?"

Sure, I hear them all and I even assist customers when it comes to bargain shopping.

Most garden centers don't mind if you take a plant out of the pot, as long as you return it to the same pot.

I have to keep an eye open at times, there are some people that try to switch pots and ID tags.

However, if I think a plant is going to a good home and it is a plant that can be marked down, I have no problem doing so.

A customer is a happy, a plant has a new home and I feel like I did a good deed for the day.

What I am saying is don't be afraid to ask for a bigger discount, often you will get it, if you aren't to pushy.

That, and nobody likes a pushy, know it all.

Sometimes I will give a big discount.

I will take a plant out of a pot to show healthy growth if a customer is pushing me, they don't get a bigger discount.

Okay, let's go over this.

Discounted plants may or may not be a bargain.

It is up to you to figure some things out, do some detective work. You might find a knowledgeable worker to assist you.

Because a plant is marked down doesn't make it a good deal. Then again, it may be a good steal.

Look for healthy white or light colored roots. It doesn't matter if they are growing into a clumped up mess, as long as they are healthy.

Is the soil fresh smelling or have a rotten oder to it?

Rotten soil should bring a mark-down on price,(if you want the plant) it means something isn't right.

Is the crown healthy looking?

It doesn't matter if the foliage is dying back, full of holes or have signs of mildew or fungus spots.

Is the crown healthy?

Often a plant can be sick (rotting roots and sick crown) and still look healthy........ for now.

Enough water for a short period of time can keep a sick plant going.

To much water can also make a healthy plant sick, causing root and crown rot (check the soil).

More plants die from to much water than not enough water.

Some plants may look bad and be great bargains, some may look good and be a bad deal.

You know that mildew, black spot and other fungus are air borne and the main cause is environmental (sun, water, air).

Play up the sickness for a possible bigger discount, but don't get pushy. I know, and many garden center workers know about fungus.

We also want to get rid of some stock.

You may have better luck and box stores when you point out these plants.

Most of the time, big stores want to unload the garden plants so they are willing to deal.

Garden centers want to work inventory down, but not to the point where there isn't anything.

Plants are their business.

You should find healthier plants at garden centers, because regular staff (non seasonal) are experienced, knowledgeable, and dare I say it...................... educated in the "Green Industry".

No matter where you shop, you can show some confidence.

Show some knowledge, but don't be afraid to ask for opinions or help.

We also are willing to make deals when treated right.

When it comes to bargain perennials, when in doubt, always look below the surface.

When you get them home, lightly feed them to promote strong root growth and some new foliage.

Foliage brings food to the roots and roots feed the foliage.

Dig the hole twice as wide and deep.

Amend if needed and do a back fill.

Fluff up or rough up the roots so they grow out, not around the potted clump.

Plant your plants where they will get some care and plant like needs with like needs (water, sun, shade etc.)

Ground water your plants when possible.

Just because a plant tag says drought tolerant, doesn't mean no water. All new plantings require water the first year.

Clip off any dead or sick foliage.

Do you need to use a fungicide, than do so to arrest the fungal growth.

If this sounds a bit confusing to you, feel free to ask me to explain it.

Trees and shrubs are a different story for another time.

Well, its time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your thought for the week.

The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident.

Charles Lamb (1775-1834) British Essayist

How about that, doing good without patting ourself on the back.

Doing good because we want to do good and should do good.

Being a person of honor when no one is looking.

Being the person God wants us to be.

If that doesn't put a smile on your face, that what will.

You know, smiles are one of life's simple things we can share and do it without regrets.

It is hard to have a stealthy smile, especially when it lights up your face and the faces of others.

Be sure to share your smiles this week.

Share them with friends and strangers.

If nothing else, you just might confuse someone.

Until next time

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers. Better yet, have them sign up so they can recieve their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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