VPGGB # 10: Plant Rescues

I had a bit of a plant buying frenzy a few days ago. I suspect I was feeling a bit left out after Patient Gardener bought a rather lovely red herbaceous Potentilla at Hergest Croft last week. She also knows I've been after some Echinacea since we met up at Malvern in May.

So I should have known that a trip to my local garden centre with Threadspider last Thursday - on the pretext we hadn't been there for absolutely ages - would break my recent plant buying duck, especially as she was being all encouraging and up for buying a few plants herself. I showed you the Achillea and Scabiosa on Saturday, plus I bought six superbly scented Lavandula angustifolia to start a lavender hedge on the patio. I also showed you another view of this Echinacea 'Kim's Knee High'. However, I didn't tell you it was an absolute bargain :)

Whilst Threadspider went off to get a gorgeous Dahlia 'Bishop of Canterbury' which had taken her fancy, I homed in on the Achillea and Scabiosa. What should I espy on the way, but a tubtrug full off dead headings, wilting leaves and the pictured Echinacea, still in its pot. I took it out of the trug and as far as I could see it's only crimes were it was listing rather severely to one side and some of the compost at the top of the pot was missing. The leaves were rather pale, but there were plenty of flowers, plus a few more on the way. It certainly looked like throwing it out would be a little hasty.

I found the assistant doing the dead heading and asked if I could rescue the plant for her. I could as long as I was prepared to pay a nominal fee for it - even the staff aren't allowed to rescue plants without paying for the privilege - would 50p be OK? As you can see, it certainly was - a fully healthy plant is £8.99 - and Kim's now looking much happier in her new home :)

The next time you're out at a garden centre, nursery or anywhere selling plants you like, have a look to see if they have a bargain plants section. These are legitimate plant rescue opportunities and always be on the alert for even more opportunistic rescues like mine :) If you can do a little plant 'rescuing' yourself do also bear in mind:
  • Give the plant a gentle tug. If all or quite a bit of the plant 'comes off in your hand guv', don't buy it. It's dead or very nearly that way.
  • Take the plant out of its pot. Are the roots pot bound? Avoid it the roots are severely wound round each other or bursting through the pot wall - the plant is unlikely to throw out new roots to establish itself in its new home. If it's lightly pot bound and you can easily tease out some of the roots, it's still rescuable
  • If the plant is severely wilted - don't bother. Signs of very recent wilting are rescuable if you immerse the plant + pot into water until the compost is fully wetted through again as soon as you get it home. If this presents any difficulties, adding a couple of drops of washing up liquid to the water can help to re-wet thoroughly dried out compost
  • Look for signs of damage by pests or disease. Avoid if you find any - you never know what's still lurking on or around the plant even if it looks like the cause of the problem has gone
  • If the plant's severely misshapen due to trimming back and is a shrub - don't buy. The plant is unlikely to regain a shapely silhouette. If it's a perennial, like my Echinacea, it should regain a good shape next season
  • What's the condition of the compost like? If there's masses of moss and/or weeds, particularly perennial ones - avoid
  • What's the plant's leaf colour like? Compare with healthy stock if possible. If most of the leaves look rather tired or sick (brown or yellow) - don't bother. You'll see that my bargain plant had some yellowing and the leaves were a paler green than I would have liked, but nothing that a quick feed and some nice new compost to settle into wouldn't cure
  • Is the plant an annual? Avoid if it's towards the end of the season for that plant. Don't laugh - quite a few places attempt to sell off annuals to unsuspecting customers at knock down prices towards the end of the growing season to make room for new stock :O
Do you have any plant rescue tales or tips to add to the list?


  1. I cut back my coneflowers and spread the seed around because I can never have too many. :)
    I didn't rescue any but did find a perennial half price sale and bought a couple of new things.


  2. Thanks for the great advice, VP! I will definitely use these tips later when our garden centers try to get rid of stock before the end of the season. I've never been brave enough to actually buy a rescue plant before, because the ones I've seen look pretty pathetic. But now that I know more of what to look for, I might--I'm always looking for a good bargain!

  3. VP I have done the plant rescue thing many a time and got fantastic bargains : ) I love it !!
    But .. I can testify that buying one with roots in a bound and overflowing ? condition are fine too .. all you have to do (and you don't have to be gentle with most) is grasp them or even cut horizontally into the root ball.. cut away most of the tough roots .. put a good sprinkle of bone meal (I call it magic garden dust) into the hole before the plant and a good watering when in its new home .. and it will recover .. don't pass up a good plant because of the root thing .. you can 'fix" that girl ! LOL
    Joy : )

  4. Some excellent advice VP and what a bargain you snaffled up. I gulped when at the thought of paying £8.99 for a perennial beautiful though it is ! Garden centre prices seem very steep to me and I do not often purchase plants from them these days. I prefer to visit nurseries, plant fairs or our local country market where you can ask questions of the people who have grown them with love :)

  5. What a bargain VP nice one!
    Now I am just off to look up Threadspider's new dahlia.

  6. MNG - half price sale - more bargains :)

    Rose - go on have a go, what have you got to lose?

    Joy - that's a good point and that's what I do when repotting large plants. You might have to trim back some of the foliage to allow for the smaller amount of roots serving a larger canopy

    Anna - I try and avoid garden centre purchases too, but I'd not seen any of these at my local nursery and they've been on my list for ages.

    Karen - when you see it you'll want one.

  7. Does buying plants very cheaply from a GC sale count as rescuing them? They were very sad and lonely there, and started calling my name as I walked past them, so I think they wanted to be rescued ;)

  8. Juliet - most definitely and well done!


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