Where the garden pros shop: you too can score big at this fall's plant sales.
Shop at plant sales and you'll often have access to a more unusual selection of plants at low prices, but they'll be a far cry from the perfect specimens packing the neat aisles at your favorite nursery. Think of these sales as the flea markets of the botanical world: lots of dinged-up merchandise that could, with a little TLC, turn into treasures.
Set your alarm Many of these sales become mayhem by midday. Arrive early (most open around 9) to get the best plants.
Expect the unexpected You'll generally see more obscure plants than what the typical nursery stocks. Some sales post inventories online before the event, which gives you time to do a little research. Or, when you arrive, ask for a plant list, grab a cup of coffee, and take a few minutes to plan your attack.
Look beyond the surface Many of the plants for sale will look rattier than those you'd find in a nursery. It's okay: They're just slowing down for winter. Given time to spread their roots, they'll come soaring back in spring.
Cash, check, or charge? Find out before you go--there's nothing worse than having to pass on that one-of-a-kind acacia just because the sale accepts only cash and you didn't bring any. Unlike flea markets, though, these sales are usually fund-raisers--getting a bargain is fine, but bargaining itself isn't cool.
BYO Be a pro and bring some bags or a cart to get your haul to your car.
Join the club Become a member of your favorite garden or plant society. Chances are you'll get early access to its sale.
WHERE THE SALES ARE
Oct 1 & 2, Oakland Merritt College Fall Plant Sale Unusual edibles that you won't find at your local nursery.merrittlandhort.com
Oct 8, Santa Cruz Arboretum at UC Santa Cruz Colorful exotics and natives. arboretum.ucsc.edu
Oct 8, Walnut Creek Ruth Bancroft Garden Fall Plant Sale Succulents and natives.ruthbancroftgarden.org
Oct 9, Davis UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery plant sale One of the best in the whole region, including plants adapted to growing in the Central Valley.arboretum.ucdavis.edu
Oct 1-31, Santa Barbara Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Fall Plant Sale Spectacular California natives. sbbg.org (click on "classes")
Oct 15, San Diego California Native Plant Society, San Diego chapter Natives for drought-tolerant gardens.cnbssd.org
Oct 15 & 16, Encinitas San Diego Botanic Garden Annual Fall Plant Sale California natives, cactus, succulents, bromeliads, fruit trees, and subtropicals. $12 garden admission fee; sdbgarden.org
Oct 1, Beaverton, OR Tualatin Hills Nature Park Fall Native Plant Sale Trees, shrubs, and flowering plants. thprd.org
Oct 1, Seattle Washington Native Plant Society's Central Puget Sound Native Bulb, Seed & Plant Sale The name says it all. wnps.org
Oct 1, Tacoma Tacoma Nature Center's Fall Native Plant Sale Trees, shrubs, flowering plants, and bulbs. tacomanaturecenter.org
Oct 15, Las Vegas Las Vegas State Tree Nursery plant sale Native and desert-adapted plants and pine trees. forestry.nv.gov
Oct 15 & 16, Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden Fall Plant Sale Desert-adapted plants, along with just about every low-water-use landscaping plant under the sun. abg.org/plantsale
Oct 15 & 16, Tucson Tohono Chul Park Fall Plant Sale Arid area--adapted plants, including many Arizona natives. tohonochulpark.org
Sep 24, Denver Denver Botanic Gardens Fall Plant and Bulb Sale Rockies plant sales tend to take place in September; this 10,000-bulb spectacular is one of the month's latest. botanicgardens.org
BEFORE & AFTER You'd never see such a sad-looking salvia at a nursery, but plants often Look a bit bedraggled at a nonprofit's plant sale. We sunk this Salvia greggii 'San Takao' into the ground in fall, and it made an amazing comeback the next spring.
BY JOHANNA SILVER | PHOTOGRAPHS BY RACHEL WEILL