When we visit a garden center, we can feel like a kid in a candy store with so many wonderful, colourful, eye-catching things to buy and take home. On the other hand, we’ve had people tell us that it can feel daunting and a bit overwhelming, especially with some of the larger garden centers with a large area and thousands of plants specimens and garden accessories. No matter how you feel, we’ve put together this guide to help you get the most out of your next visit to the garden center.

Make a list of what you want to buy
Have a plan and sticking to it is essential. It’s like if you go to the grocery store while you’re hungry, you’ll probably buy more, buy things you don’t need, or forget something important. If you’re just starting off and don’t know where to start, consider bringing a friend with you who is more knowledgeable and who’s advice you trust, or plan for another visit once you’ve done some homework, talked to the staff for advice, and figured out a plan for your garden.

Make a list of questions you have
Garden center employees are often very knowledgeable and passionate about plants. Seek out the employees and don’t be afraid to ask different questions. If you can, go during off-peak times so there isn’t a line up of people waiting to talk to the staff. Sometimes it’s unavoidable like in the spring on weekends. If that’s the case, there often is a dedicated customer service desk or area you can go to find someone who can spend a bit more time helping you with your questions. Some garden centers have specialists that can help you with your different questions – like people who specialize in fruit trees, people who are great with roses or evergreens, etc. so if the person you’re talking to doesn’t have enough information to help you, see if there’s a specialist who may be able to help you with your questions.

If you have a certain plant in mind and the garden center doesn’t have it, ask if they can order it in for you. Some things are only brought in seasonally (think vegetable transplants in the spring, Christmas trees in December, citrus trees in the new year). Some varieties may have delays for their suppliers so ask what has just come in for the freshest stock or what is about to arrive if you plan to make a trip back.

Bring large photos or large device to show staff
If you’re looking for tips and advice, bring large photos or a device with a large screen to show the staff. For specific problems like discolored leaves on a plant, make sure to take lots of photos from different angles and perspectives. For example, you’ll want to take a closeup photo of the top and bottom side of the discolored leaf, a closeup photo of the top and bottom part of a healthy leaf, as well as a wider angle shot of the plant showing how it looks overall, and maybe even a wide angle shot showing where the plant is, what’s nearby, and the view of the surrounding landscape. This will help the staff identify and diagnose any issues.

For general garden planning help, take a wide range of photos of your garden. If you can, get photos from ground level and from a higher vantage point if possible. Bonus points if you can measure out the area and bring those numbers with you to help the staff make better recommendations such as how many plants to fill a certain area.

Choose good quality plants
So you’ve made your list, got your questions answered, and now it’s time to buy your plants. Instead of just picking the first plant you see, make sure you inspect them to choose the healthiest and best specimen for your garden. Some things you’ll want to look for include signs of bugs or disease, shape and form factor (especially for trees and larger perennials), if it is pot-bound, and how well it has been cared for. For beginners and those who may want a second opinion, seek out a staff member and ask them to help you select a good looking plant specimen for your garden.

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