Now is the time to purchase plants

Photos by Kit Flynn.


By Kit Flynn

January is the perfect time to buy plants. However, there are some rules you should follow if your purchases are to be successful – and by buying, I’m referring to ordering plants online instead of madly waiting until the beginning of April to purchase whatever plants your local garden center is offering.

Look over your garden with a firm eye to determine how much available room you actually have. This is critical because for every enthusiastic gardener, there comes the time when you suddenly realize with a sinking feeling that available space is at a premium. And, without available space, it’s difficult to add new plants.

The best way to cope with a faulty memory is by taking photos. I’ve enclosed two photos of one of my perennial borders; the first one demonstrates what the border looks like in June whereas the other one indicates its winter condition. If I just went by the latter photo, I would figure that I had lots of room when the truth is that I have none left in this particular border.

Be aware of your gardening zone. For years we were listed under zone 7a, but we’re now inching up to zone 7b. All good gardening catalogs list the proper zone for a particular perennial. Now there are some perennials, happy in zone 9, that we treat as annuals. This works for some perennials but not all. Remember that old adage about perennials: “The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap.”

Now it’s hard to treat a sleeping or creeping perennial as though it were an annual if it needs two years to perform so you have to do some research. Plant these perennial-turned-annuals in May when the outside temperature has warmed up the soil for best results. In my experience, most gardeners who have tried this approach to annuals have not continued the tradition after a couple of years. A true annual will sprint, whereas most perennials take their time.

The sun changes so it’s important to know whether you need plants requiring sun or shade or that in between designation, “partial sun.” There’s no point ordering echinacea for a shady spot next to the ferns, nor does it make sense to plant ferns next to roses. Note the requirements of the particular plant you are contemplating purchasing.

Every year I come across plants that have captured my notice so I list their names in “Notes” to purchase for the next growing season. Last fall, I managed to dig up two large plots containing Phlox paniculata ‘John Fanick’ as I was tired of the constant arrival of powdery mildew. On my list is the name of Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ as it’s a lovely phlox that seemingly repels powdery mildew – the list reminds me that I want to order twenty specimens.

Now Plant Delights has carried this plant in the past but, alas, is no longer offering it. So, I have hurriedly gone to another dealer to order 20 specimens because mentally I have planned these two large plots around this particular phlox that I know will work. The sad fact is that nurseries either quickly run out of desirable plants or perhaps because of poor sales or poor growing conditions have decided not to reoffer them. Consequently, I am careful to order early on if I have my heart set on a certain plant.

Be warned that the packaging and mailing costs can be quite high but you want the plants to arrive in good condition. If I need Lavandula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal’, a lavender that’s widely available, I’ll go to the local garden center to pick it up as there’s no point paying for it to be mailed. If I want Monarda ‘Electric Neon’, I’ll order it online as I’m not at all sure that I can find it locally – the packaging and mailing costs are then worth it.

Don’t be afraid to have a couple of experiments in your order. Some of the plants I have most enjoyed have resulted from an impulse purchase. Otherwise, Spigelia and I would never have made an acquaintance. Consequently, I have order Ruscus aculeatus ‘Elizabeth Lawrence’, a plant I’m totally unacquainted with but one that sounds interesting.

I have selected several cultivars of plants that hold an important spot in the garden. I have lots of Polygonatum odoratum but somehow ‘Angel Wing’ grabbed my attention as did Aspidistra elatior ‘Morning Frost’. I reordered several old friends that I have long enjoyed: Rosa Tausendschon, Hosta ‘Branching Out’, and Zantedeschia ‘Picasso’, a calla lily that has performed beautifully for me over the years.

Every other year, I take out the two Fatsia japonica that have resided in large planters by my front door. This year, Plant Delights offered F. japonica ‘Spiders Web’ with greyish green leaves that I instinctively feel would decorate the door step beautifully. Because I have so many fatsias in the yard after so many years, these fatsias will go to a neighbor’s yard where I hope they will have a pleasant life.

Now after all this contemplation of my spring garden, I can sit back on my haunches until April when they arrive. Then I shall frantically try to site these 22 new plants (not including the 20 phlox) as I will again be forced to realize that I have run out of room.

Like any plantoholic, I am better handing out advice than I am heeding it.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at
Share This Article

Scroll down to make a comment.

Be the first to comment on "Now is the time to purchase plants"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.