Bargain Hunting for Habitat

Bargain Hunting for Habitat

Foamflower (


) is one of the earliest of spring bloomers.

Now is the time to get deals on trees and shrubs and get those puppies in the ground! 

Big boxes and local nurseries should all be "marking down" their old inventory and giving you the opportunity to add habitat with fewer dollars leaving your wallet. Saving money on landscape investments you intend to make anyway is obviously a Good Thing To Do. But how do you take advantage without being "led astray" by your desires for a) pretty things and b) getting more than you can plant quickly or c) more than you have room for?

Well, my dear, you must have a plan and --the hard part-- stick with it!

Let's assume that you have a few plants that are under-performing which you intend to dig up and dispose of or replant in a new area.

(Which is your excuse to go buy something new, of course.) Or, you've decided to establish a whole new bed. In our case there's a little of both--plus the plugging of a hole created in the border when a neighbor took down a mature spruce. In the case of the hole, plant selection is relatively easy--one plant, appropriately sized at maturity to fill the hole, that will like the sun/shade levels and the existing soil. And these last three parameters are what should help you to discipline yourself at the point of sale. Because if you've had some under-performing plants, chances are it's because they are NOT happy with the sun/shade levels and the existing soil.

Arrowwood Viburnum makes great bird habitat!

So. If you intend to move any plants, will they be any happier in their new locations, or would the new spot be just as unlikeable to them? If so, then give up on that plant (or give it to someone with a more appropriate location) and get something that is better suited to the spot. [Right plant, right place!] Make a list of possibilities, and if any of these new specimens are available on sale at your local vendors, take them home. You may not get good advice at the big box, but your local nursery should be able to guide you in selecting a new specimen for your "problem" location.

Starting with a whole new bed? Fall is the ideal time. Plants will suffer less stress due to water loss (from transpiration) in fall, and research indicates that root development is better in fall-planted trees and shrubs than those that are planted in spring. The key is planting early enough in fall to allow roots to get good and anchored before the ground freezes. Four weeks before the anticipated ground freeze is ideal. Time to get a move on!

A new bed gives you the opportunity to plan, plan, plan--and make plant selections based on what you've learned about your soil and light conditions and principles of good design. For the most bang for the buck, plan with generalities--plants that are a certain height, plants that are evergreen, plants that bloom in a specific month--and then purchase plants that fit these generalities. When possible, snap up those sale plants in masses (odd numbers are


) which will make good design statements and be most visible to the pollinators and birds who are searching out food and shelter. If you need to amend the soil--adding compost,

worm castings



--do it now, making nice wide holes for the new babies you bring home from the nursery. Try to make selections that will provide year-round interest, which will make you and the wildlife happy!

Yes, that's a group of 3 Lady Fern... and a third oakleaf hydrangea!

More than likely, you won't be able to get everything you might want on sale. But if your plan calls for 3 of something (blueberries, anyone?) and you can only snag two on sale, that's still money in your pocket that wouldn't be there if you had to buy all three at regular pricing. Just leave space for number three as you plant, and plug it in in spring when the specimen you want becomes available again.

Remember: any "sale" plant has likely been in the pot longer than desirable, meaning that you may need to do some

immersion therapy

to ensure a happy start in its new home. Happy planting!


NC State


Colorado State University

Another Reason to Love Oakleaf Hydrangea

Another Reason to Love Oakleaf Hydrangea

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