Set to swap? What to know before you go Set to swap? What to know before you go

  • Article by: CONNIE NELSON , Home + Garden Editor
  • Updated: May 12, 2009 - 10:25 AM

Most of us get the bulk of our plants at garden centers. But you can save a few bucks and spice up your shopping by going to one of the many plant sales or swaps.

Sponsored by garden clubs, churches and fund-raising organizations, plant sales often charge less for plants than your local garden center does. And plants at swaps are free -- provided you have something to trade.

But shopping at sales and swaps isn't without risk. You could end up with a tyrant of a plant that wants to take over your yard, or a garden-variety dud.

Here's how to avoid the mishaps -- and have fun -- at sales and swaps.

DRESS FOR SUCCESS

That means jeans and ratty T-shirts. C'mon, you're going to get messy.

KNOW THYSELF AND THY SITE

Sales and swaps can be lots of fun, but don't get carried away. Know your site (sun or shade, clay or sand), how much space you have and how much work you're willing to put into it. That'll help you make your selections.

THINK ABOUT THE BOX

Bring a wagon, plant tray or a box to carry the goodies you're offering -- and the ones you'll get.

LOOK AND LISTEN

Some of the plants offered will be immature and difficult to identify. If plants aren't labeled, ask.

ARM YOURSELF

Bring your favorite garden reference or a couple of catalogs to look up plants you don't know.

HARDY VS. AGGRESSIVE

You're likely to be getting divisions from local gardens, especially at smaller sales and swaps. That's good because you'll know the plants are hardy. But watch out for plants that spread aggressively. Buyer beware.

BIGGER ISN'T ALWAYS BETTER

Smaller plants often transplant easier. Go for healthy, disease-free plants.

TRIED AND TRUE

Plant swaps aren't known for having lots of exotic plants. Rejoice in the tried-and-true, hardy space fillers (daylilies, phlox, coneflowers, etc.) and the next-to-nothing prices.

NO MONEY BACK

Few sales and swaps offer any kind of guarantees. Shop smart.

DON'T LET A LITTLE RAIN STOP YOU

Traffic at sales and swaps slows when the weather's bad. That could mean shorter lines and better bargains for you. Put on a raincoat, pack your umbrella and go.

WHAT ABOUT GARDEN CENTERS?

AVOID THE RUSH

To avoid crowds, shop midweek rather than on weekends. Shelves should be freshly stocked and many weekend specials start as early as Thursday.

TIME IT RIGHT

If you have to shop on the weekends, go early or late or shop when it's raining.

KNOW YOUR SOURCE

Shop large garden centers for one-stop shopping, specialty nurseries for exotic and unusual plants, and big-box stores and temporary flower marts for bargains on common annuals and perennials.

Connie Nelson • 612-673-7087

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