Landscaping On Limited Funds

As my regular readers know, I'm landscaping a huge front yard after losing my red tip photinias to blight.

Since I had to remove these immense shrubs I decided to also do away with grass. (I'm not a fan of grass--unless it's for grazing animals.)

This left me with a relative blank slate. I mentioned in a recent post that I'm on year one of a three-year plan where I'm slowly adding plants and shrubs as money permits. I estimated that it would be upwards of $3000 to fill up this space if I were to buy all my plants new. I don't have $3000.

Empty pockets makes a person very resourceful though. I decided I would buy only the foundation plants that line the driveway at full price to give it uniformity in size and appearance. Everything else would either be grown by seed, bulb, cutting, or on clearance.

I was lucky in that when I decided to buy the shrubs, in this case, cleyeras, Lowes was running a sale. I got them for about $22 each. A bargain for very healthy 10 gallon plants.

Note: Although the cleyeras were all the same size when I bought them, today they're various sizes due in no small part to one belligerent deer who kept munching on a couple of them. Apparently, he couldn't read the tag that said these shrubs were deer resistant.

Still, my base shrubs had survived (despite the midnight snacking) and it was time to buy the fillers.

My first big buy was late last year. My local feed and hay store was clearing out their garden stock. This was both good and bad.

It was September. Horribly hot. And the plants didn't look their best. On the plus side, they were 90% off. Within days, whatever was left was going for 10 cents a piece. I picked up African daisies, salvia and echinacea for pennies.

Although I cared for them diligently, not all of them made it. Echinacea was the first to go. When you shop on clearance, you take your chances.

I will caution you that if you don't have a green thumb you're better off not buying on clearance. Up your chances by paying full price. At least then, you might have a chance to return the plant should it die suddenly.

There is only one downside to buying on clearance. You have no control on what goes on clearance. I try not to buy plants unless I can get at least three of the same variety or size. Specimen shrubs are different, but unless you know your plants well you might end up with a hodge podge of varieties.

It can still work if you can find a good place for it to grow, just be aware when acquiring orphan plants.

If you want to take a chance on clearance plants, let me take you through the steps I take to better your odds.

At the nursery:
  • Check the bottom of the pot to see if the plant is root bound.
  • Has the plant been watered recently?
  • Are the leaves yellowed?

If you still want to bring that plant home:
  • If you don't plant it right away, immediately give it a thorough watering. Most likely it's been neglected and needs a lot of care to bring it back to life.
  • Give it a haircut. Any plant I buy on clearance needs a fighting chance. You can do that by letting it recoup its energy. Instead of allowing it to feed a multitude of leaves, trim them. Leave the strongest stems and snip off ALL blooms. You want it to divert its energy to as few parts as possible.
  • Keep it out of direct sunlight. You want to shelter the plant while it's healing.

When it's time to put it in the ground:
  • Do your research and figure out the best place to site your plant.
  • Dig a hole nearly the height of the original base, but twice as wide.
  • When you pull it out of the pot dunk in a pail of water for a few hours.
  • Tease out the roots. Most plants are either root bound or nearly so. Loosening up the root system will retrain it to expand its roots and not stay in a knot.
  • At this time I line the hole with good compost or garden soil. (organic compost is best) Place your plant in the hole, an inch or so above the ground level. Level the surrounding dirt with wood chips or more compost.
  • Water thoroughly. Keep watering every day, especially if it's hot.
  • If it's very hot, give it a little shade. You want to give it time to adjust to its new home without extra stressors.
  • I generally don't give it fertilizer right away. I want it to concentrate on its roots, not leaves. I might use root hormone/stimulator depending on the plant. Below are the ones I've used in the past with great success.                                                                                                            
    Once I'm sure it's had time to develop new roots, I'll feed it with some weak fertilizer like compost tea. I give it a full dose of fertilizer in early spring and once in the fall.

    Even a pro will lose plants and I've lost plenty despite a lot of TLC, but I've also reaped the rewards of buying on clearance. I can promise you I don't have any special skills. It's just common sense and patience.  

      I'm always gun-shy with bulbs. I don't have a lot of experience with them. This year, my closest grocery store put a bunch of them on clearance for 50 cents per box. 
      They were high up on a shelf so I had my trusty helper, Greg pull them down and put them in my cart. 
      By this time six more people had surrounded the clearance aisle and they too were pulling down boxes by the armload. I had gotten there first, so as the shelf started to empty I'd ask Greg to pull down specific bulbs. 
      He also pulled down anything he thought looked pretty too. Once they were in my cart, I was able to examine them more carefully. Every single box I opened had perfect looking bulbs. I couldn't believe my luck. 
      I got on my phone and started researching the flowers I was less familiar with to see if they'd fit into my new landscape. Some required more shade or more water than I was willing to provide, so back they went on the shelf. They were quickly scooped up by others within seconds. 
      In the end, I spent nine dollars on what would've cost ninety dollars. To date, every box of bulbs has sprouted and some have already flowered. I'm especially looking forward to some purple potato seeds I planted (also 50 cents). The plants are gorgeous and are getting ready to open their flowers. I expect we might be eating those potatoes next month. 
      The only advice I can give you about buying bulbs is to look at the bulbs themselves. You don't want anything shriveled or moldy. If it has any shoots starting to come out, you want to plant them right away. Don't wait. 
      While buying sad looking plants might be a risk, it's also a boon for your bottom line if you can nurse them back to health. I'm patient. I know that if I can take care of them for a few months, no one will be any the wiser that these were ever clearance plants. People compliment me on my gardens all the time, so I must be doing something right--and within budget too. :) 
      Have you had any luck buying on clearance?


    Thanks for the tips about buying on clearance! Even though I'm not good with plants, I always wander over to the clearance table. I've even managed to save a few plants. For a little while anyway. I have a feeling, though, it was more down to luck than anything I did. :)
    Carole West said…
    I had great luck buying clearance plants when we lived on our farm. Then I propagated from them and brought starters with me to the new place.

    All of those plants have now matured and I'll probably have to start this all over again at some point as eventually we'll be buying land for just us.

    I find clearance plants just need to be watered and set in the shade for about a week before trimming or transplanting.

    I like to get them feeling better before adding additional shock. It's pretty sad to see all the waste that flies through nursereis.

    My grandma taught me early on that propagating is the best way to expand your garden. With that being said, if you ever want some daylilies let me know.

    I'll be propagting them in the fall, they went explosive this year. Apparently they like rain.
    Lisa L Lombardo said…
    I have worked at 3 different plant nurseries over the years and that has helped me learn which clearance items are a great deal and which ones to avoid. Watch out for root rot! Sometimes plants are overwatered to the point that the roots rot and the plant can't be salvaged.

    These days I am downsizing on the landscaping and concentrating more of the veggies. I don't have enough energy to take care of it all!

    Great tips, Maria!
    Maria Zannini said…
    Madeline: I think it's always 90% luck and 10% skill. :D Sometimes the one I think should make it don't and the ones that must surely be dead come back to life.

    I had one only yesterday. I had already pulled it out and was sitting on a brush heap. A heavy rain brought it back to life. Three days later, greenery started shooting out of the base.
    Maria Zannini said…
    Carole: I love being able to bring a few plants from the old home to the new one. Makes me feel like I'm spreading a legacy.

    I might take you up on the lilies. We had lots of rain this year, but that's unusual for us. I think your area gets a touch more rain than we do. We always seem to miss out.
    Maria Zannini said…
    Lisa: I'm doing just the opposite of you. After years of concentrating on veggies, I'm expanding into flowers. It's daunting!

    Good call on the root rot. I like to pull the plant out of the pot (if possible) so I can see how much work it'll entail.
    Jenny Schwartz said…
    Great advice! I love bulbs. When you have room in the garden for them to naturalise and spread, they make a fabulous show - and always seem like a gift when they pop up in spring. The only downside is how many are poisonous ... can't let dig-happy puppies loose in a yard with them.
    Maria Zannini said…
    Jenny: Yes! Good point on the bulbs. I haven't had any dogs lately that'll eat bulbs, but it's something to always keep in mind.
    Michael Keyton said…
    Belatedly, I've seen the light and try to buy self seeding perennials. Mind you, I'm still a sucker for bright red geraniums and luckily I can buy them cheap enough at the market. I'm done with overwintering cuttings : )
    Maria Zannini said…
    Mike: I bring my geraniums in every winter. I think they're about 3 or 4 years old now. So far so good, but they do take up a lot of space.