Two things to do before you go plant shopping

I spent a lot of time this past weekend buying and selling plants. Besides a shopping trip or two for my own garden, I accompanied two newer gardeners on separate trips to help them pick out plants. It was a great reminder to me of how intimidating a garden centre can be for someone who is new to gardening or maybe just doesn’t do it enough to be confident that they’re doing it right. If that’s you, you’ll want to read on as I share my top two things to do to prepare for plant shopping.


On Saturday morning I was on the other side of the table, selling plants at my horticultural society’s community plant sale. I was working the perennial plant  table, which was fully stocked, as usual, with interesting plants from the gardens of our horticultural society members.

I love talking to people from our community about plants, and helping them find the right ones for their gardens. Even more rewarding is when they come back the next year and tell me how their plants are doing!


My questions, when I see someone browsing the perennial table, usually start with “are you looking for something to grow in a sunny spot or a shady spot?” Which leads to my two tips on things to do before you go plant shopping:


  1. Know how sunny your garden is. Watch your garden and figure out whether the area you want to plant in is in full sun (i.e. it gets 6 or more hours of direct sun a day) or not. This is key information to have—some plants won’t thrive in less than full sun and some plants will wither with that much sun. This rule applies to all plants, whether you’re looking to buy perennials, pretty annuals to fill a pot, trees, vegetables, or herbs.


  1. Snap some photos of your garden with your phone before you go shopping. Once you get into the garden centre there is so much selection it can be overwhelming. Having a photo with you will help you remember what planting hole or pot you came to fill and how big it is. And, if you need to ask a staff member for help it will make it a lot easier for them to give you good counsel if they can see your space instead of hearing “well, I need something to plant in the backyard, in front of the rosebush, beside the hostas, well, I think they’re hostas—is that what you call those things with green leaves that grow low to the ground?”


Bonus tip: bring close-up, in focus shots of the leaves of any plant you’re looking for help with identifying, as well as a picture of the whole plant, and, if it flowers, a picture of the flowers with you.


Once you’re in the garden centre, read the tags on the plants—they’ll tell you whether the plant needs full sun or tolerates shade, and tell you how big it will get (height and width). Between the information on the tag and the homework you did before you left the house, you’ll be well on your way to buying the right plants for your garden!



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