How to Find the Best Garden Plants for the Best Price in the Twin Cities Region


Your lawn or backyard growth plans may not be as ambitious as the well-manicured grounds of Versailles, but a good garden center has the inside information on plants and plans that will make your outdoor space thrive. Top-notch centers employ knowledgeable staff who can tell you what to plant where in addition to selling quality annuals and perennials. And in many cases, they will also offer good prices. But some garden centers have overpriced, drooping flowers and even more drooping employees.

As warmer weather sets in, gardens and landscaping are rising on our to-do lists. Even the greenest thumbs need help sometimes, sometimes a lot. Which plants to buy? How to plant them? Where to plant them? How to feed them?

The best-run garden centers have the answers. Running a good garden center or nursery requires knowledge, years of experience, organizational skills and a strong commitment to quality. And since most garden centers buy – rather than grow – most of what they sell, purchasing capacity and purchasing standards vary.

If you need help, the nonprofit Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook garden center quality and price reviews can help you find it. Until May 5, Checkbook is offering free access to its reviews of garden centers in the region to Star Tribune readers via Checkbook.org/StarTribune/Garden-Centers.

Checkbook reviews collected from local consumers on the garden centers they frequent reflect the great variation in quality between retailers. Some stores were rated “superior” overall by at least 80% of their surveyed customers, but several other retailers were rated “superior” by 30% or less.

For the selection of plants they sell, Home Depot and Menards have done very well in terms of price. Menards’ prices were on average 46% lower than the all store average for comparable items, and Home Depot’s prices were on average 34% lower than the all store average. Unfortunately, both received well below average ratings on “product quality”. While none of Lowe’s stores received 10 or more reviews in our consumer surveys, the threshold for being included in the reviews, we found that they also offer very low prices.

Unlike most types of services and stores reviewed by Checkbook, paying more for plants in garden centers slightly improves your chances of getting better advice, better service, and better product quality. Checkbook found that many of the top-rated stores for quality had above-average prices, but some stores that rated high for quality also had below-average prices.

For specific plants, Checkbook’s undercover buyers have found huge price differences from nursery to nursery. For example, for a lavender in a 6 inch pot, the prices ranged from $ 2.99 to $ 24.99; and for a sansevieria in an 8-inch pot, the prices ranged from $ 15.99 to $ 59.99.

Before you shop, make a plan. Consider the soil type, acidity, drainage patterns, and sun exposure of your garden, and match the types of plants to areas where they are likely to thrive. Your plan should show what your property will look like immediately and what it will look like years from now when your plants have grown. Without a plan, you could end up with an assortment of plants that don’t complement each other in size, shape or color. You might end up with shade where you want the sun to be and your view of or your house obscured.

Seek advice from gardening websites, friends with attractive gardens, and experts at local botanical gardens. If you want professional help, you can hire a landscaper.

When buying plants:

• Check the roots to make sure they have not dried out. Probe with your finger or look through the drainage holes of a container to make sure the roots are whitish, not brown.

• For shrubs and trees, check weak or broken branches. The bark should not have scars or holes.

• Check plants for brown or gray areas or spots on leaves or stems, any signs of disease. And check if there are any bugs.

• During the growing season, make sure there is new growth.

• Get a receipt that shows the common and Latin names of the plants and the size, number purchased, date of purchase, price and warranty.

• Ask what guarantee you get. Fortunately, while many plant deaths are the result of improper planting or maintenance – in other words, the buyer’s fault – most garden centers still offer broad warranties.

Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help consumers get the best service and the lowest prices. We are consumer backed and don’t take any money from the service providers we review.