- Sign up for gardening newsletters and customer rewards programs. Benefits include early notices about sales and events as well as weekly specials. Rewards programs will vary, but all extend some financial incentive for shopping at their business.
2. Know when to go. If you are looking for a number of plant recommendations, garden design ideas, or simply have many questions, don’t expect lots of personal attention and time on a weekend, especially in spring! This is peak rush hour. Rather, pick a day during the week, or go early on a weekend morning, or when it’s raining. Now you have their dedicated attention!
3. Watch for plant sales that save you bundles of money, especially in fall when garden centers are emptying their benches and greenhouses. A few of my favorites: $35 for as many containers as you can jam into a cart, and all you can carry for $10! I wish I had videoed these creative antics. In addition to outrageous fall sales, some garden centers also pull out all stops in July, to clear out older inventory and make room for fresh material. One premier garden center in Vermont promotes a “Cartload Sale” in July. Fill a cart with as many greenhouse annuals and vegetables as possible for only $40; plus, newsletter subscribers receive a $5 coupon for additional savings.
4. Ask! Don’t be shy about asking for a discount on less than ideal looking plants. But don’t ask for free plants! This rubs most staff the wrong way. Garden centers are a business, not a charity. Instead, ask if they would consider a percentage off the price or perhaps sell two for the price of one.
5. “Rescue me!” With the new emphasis on greener living and protecting the environment, you can become a “Plant Rescuer.” This certainly sounds more dignified than “dumpster diver.” You might politely ask a manager if you could “save” plants that were going to be thrown away because they were not up to the garden center’s standard. The time and staff effort required to nurse these plants back to retail-ready shape doesn’t make financial sense. You could offer a flat fee to save these plants – or a tray of fresh baked cookies! Even better would be to use some or all of these rescued plants for a restoration or community beautification project or some other good-will mission.
6. Get to know a staff member. Developing a loyal relationship can result in unexpected dividends, such as when employees have the opportunity to take home free plants that were removed from inventory or dozens of bags of free bulbs placed in the staff room because floor space had to be cleared for Christmas displays.