Fall is the best time of year to get new trees, shrubs and perennials into the ground before cold weather sets in, and it’s often the best time to buy them, too. Garden centers traditionally mark down their off-season inventories rather than muscle them indoors for protection over the winter.
Discounted items also might include succulents and carnivorous plants, garden furniture, tools and statuary, potting soil and fertilizers. Many of the sale items are teasers, priced so low you can’t resist pulling out your wallet even though you may have to work hard protecting them once they make it home.
Before heading out for your bargain shopping, anticipate. Set aside several sheltered areas along retaining walls or the sides of buildings for what one veteran gardener labels “clearance stashes.”
Understand that nurturing those unplanned-for plants until spring may eat into your investment, at least in terms of late-season sweat equity. They’ll need a deep watering, holes dug for their containers or burlap-wrapped root balls, and then some fill dirt or straw layered around them for insulation.
“Containers are vulnerable to freeze damage,” said Weston Miller, a horticulturist with Oregon State University Extension Service. “Overall, I would recommend planting things right away if you buy in fall sales. Overwintering them is not worth it if you’re going with planters. Most people are not willing to deal with all that.”
Fall end-of-season sales are the biggest of the year, said Maureen Murphy, owner of Bayview Farm and Garden near Langley, Washington.
“We do progressive sales,” Murphy said. “So much is marked off one week and then more is marked off the next. People like it. It’s kind of a game for them. Will it be here next week at 30% off?”
Garden centers – especially those in the somewhat winter-friendly Pacific Northwest – recommend that people plant in the fall, she said. “The ground is still warm and that’s when the seasonal rains arrive. The plants spend their time until spring rooting in.”
Small, privately owned garden centers have to be quick to adapt to consumer demands, Murphy said. Her Whidbey Island grower-retailer operation is open year-round with a gift shop and restaurant on-site. It draws tourists along with gardeners, she said.