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GardenSMART :: Hurray For Garden Center Clearance Sales

Hurray For Garden Center Clearance Sales

By Kerry Mendez

I love rummaging through plants on garden center clearance tables at this time of the year. And I know I’m not alone. It is so much fun discovering a gem selling for 75% less than it should cost. Come to Mama! One of my favorite finds are Itoh (intersectional) peonies. These usually sell for $85 or more. By fall they may look shabby in the pot but they’re not fooling me. I know they have large root systems that store a lot of food and will transplant just fine and dandy in my garden at this time of the year.

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Intersectional ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ Peony, image courtesy Walter’s Gardens

Actually, many spring and summer blooming perennials may be putting on a sad face after sitting months in those little black pots (you would too). Some will be root bound, with a dense mat of roots that is almost impossible to break apart. If there is another pot that is less ‘congested’, buy that one. Two good indicators that a plant is probably root bound are 1) if roots are sticking though the bottom of the pot and 2) if you turn the pot over and tap, the plant won’t slide out. It won’t even slide out if you whack on the bottom (don’t do this test in front of nursery staff). If it is the only pot left and you MUST have that plant, below are steps to take when you get home.

Before planting, water the pot well to soften the soil and gnarled roots. Also cut off at least half of the top growth (leaves, stems, spent flowers) so more energy is diverted to establishing good roots.

Gently tap the pot to dislodge the plant. If this doesn’t work, rap harder. If it is still stubborn, you may need to place it on the ground (on its side) and gently step on the pot to shift the potting medium. Final blow, pick the pot up and throw it on the ground. Still no action? Grab some scissors and cut the pot away from the roots. You could have done this from the start but why not reduce your stress level and blood pressure at the same time?

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Image courtesy of the Virginia Cooperative Extension

Break apart root bound plants by using a sharp knife to either 1) cut an X in the base of the plant and work sections apart so fresh soil can make contact with the ‘starved’ roots inside or 2) slice long vertical cuts along the sides of the plant mass to open up roots this way. This is very important for establishing healthy, deep-rooted plants that overwinter better. Otherwise the roots will keep circling into the same area and eventually starve themselves to death.

Once the plant is happily placed in its new home, before back-filling with soil, pour liquid organic fertilizer (dilute per directions) over the roots. This will be quickly absorbed by the roots and jump-start the plant’s adjustment. Then back fill with soil and tamp down firmly with your hands. Water in a second time with ‘plain’ water.

Wait, you are not finished. If the plant is like ‘chocolate’ to bunnies and deer, protect it from further stress with Plantskydd, the number one animal repellent in the commercial industry. Spray Plantskydd repellent on the remaining foliage and sit back and relax!

Kerry Mendez is the author of best-selling book, "The Right-Size Flower Garden" for sale at as well as Amazon.

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To learn more about Plantskyyd’s premier liquid and granular products and their use in the landscape, visit


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