How much is that seedling in the window?

If you want to track the enthusiastic, overextended gardener, it starts with the compulsive hoarding of seed catalogs and the multitude of seed packets, and progresses into the plant sale season when every windowsill fills with seedlings waiting for the last frost date.

Plant sales at this time of year are social events chock full of information and opportunities to make new friends (both human & chlorophyll-bearing). I have avoided all plants on sale until the major hardware is installed in our garden. Our seed-starting adventures this year were a little too successful, and there’s nothing we especially need that we didn’t already buy in the seed mania. The types of plant sales I enjoy are usually “pop up” events that last a day or two, and benefit a good cause, like a local, do-gooder Non Profit Organization.

With all that said, some things can’t be helped. These are my “best practices” for a successful plant sale:

— If you can get a list of varieties available beforehand, do a little research. We’ve all made regrettable purchases. The trouble with a bad plant purchase is that it’s a living thing. You have to try to keep it alive, which is a lot of work. The master gardeners say, “Right plant, Right place” for a reason. If you find you have bought the wrong plant, find a better owner for it and re-home it as soon as possible.

— Have a running list of what you “need” for your garden. This helps you stay on task and not get overwhelmed by THE GLAMOUR. This includes immediate needs, like annuals for your vegetable garden, and long-term, expensive Landscape Plans. You never know when you will stumble across the perfect plant priced way too low.

— Go early for the best selection. Plant sales are famous for selling their best, most beautiful, most magical, rare, wonderful varieties in the first hour. (Whether this is true is debatable) You can either accept the reduced selection of a later visit to the plant sale, or battle the crowds. I prefer to tempt fate and go late, but I also think the universe is going to give me exactly the garden I need. Don’t I sound like a West Coast hippie? Yes, I know.

— Look in weird places – up, down, under the table, around the corner. I often find exactly the plant I need in a place other people overlooked.

— Don’t body check, elbow, maul, or otherwise cause harm to another person in a race to get that glorious begonia. I know all about your endorphins, but it’s bad manners. Also, don’t yell at the people working. They are probably volunteers, and your freak-out is probably unwarranted. Pack your Xanax.

— Be realistic about how much space is in your car or borrow a truck! Carpooling is great. I highly recommend it, but don’t jeopardize your friendship over your plant sale purchases. It is not justifiable to abandon your friend because you need her seat for your new Acer palmatum.

— Location, location, location! Some plant sales happen in cool places, like demo gardens you never make it to. Take advantage of this! Plan to spend a little extra time and get some free inspiration in addition to your seedlings.

— Protect your investment! If you buy small veggie plants, there is a good chance they have lived a lush life in a greenhouse. They need to be hardened off before you plant them out into the world. A quick google search can teach you more than you ever imagined about this process, but it comes down to slowly adapting your plants to life on the outside – and all the temperature fluctuations, moisture issues, pests, and direct sunlight they have never dreamed of.

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