How and where to buy the best plants

By Lloyd Thompson
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener

People attending the plant sale.
Gardeners make their plant selections during last year’s WSU Chelan-Douglas Master Gardener Plant Sale at Pybus Public Market. Master Gardeners are stationed in different areas to answer any questions. This year’s sale will start at 9 a.m. April 29 at Pybus. – Provided photo/Mary Fran McClure
Lloyd Thompson
Lloyd Thompson – WSU Extension Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener – Provided photo

It’s nearly that time of the year when we start to see racks of beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees showing up at our favorite stores and garden centers.

There is nothing quite like the rush of getting started in the garden each year. The problem I have is those first racks of plants that roll out are often way too early to plant because of cold night temperatures causing them to freeze, or soil temperatures too cold for young plants to be able to grow just yet.

It’s time to be a little patient and wait, even though fully blooming tomatoes in March or April are tempting. Truth is, it’s still cold and they won’t really do much until it gets warmer anyway, so it’s better to wait until it’s a little warmer.

Where to get your plants is a tough question, because of the changes in the horticultural industry in the past 20 years.

We used to have multiple businesses in the Wenatchee Valley that grew their own plants for sale. One of my favorite stops was Grant Road Greenhouse to talk plants and pick up some unique finds for our yard. One year, I got an amazing, scented geranium that I kept and propagated for years. Another regular spring stop was the nursery at Sleepy Hollow. Their unique yard decorations and plants led to lots of ideas and projects. Flowers to the Brim had some amazing plants.

These businesses have since closed, but there are still options for locally grown plants rather than just using the shipped-in plants at large box stores.

I like the story behind the plant almost as much as knowing it was selected because it does well in our local climate. There is a passion when I talk to someone who has nurtured and cared for a plant that was grown locally.

It takes time and effort to know the plants and be able to answer those questions of growth habits or harvest expectations. Often plants are “tested” first and grown locally before being sold to make sure they will do well in our often hot, dry, windy climate. The local experience has been mostly crowded out because of the lower cost of plants grown elsewhere and transported to the valley.

There are still some local plants that can be bought while also helping to support our local growers. You can help keep the locally grown plants around by making sure to purchase some this spring. Of course, we would love to have you visit the Master Gardeners plant sale at the end of April at Pybus Public Market.

Other local grown options include plants grown and sold at the area farmers markets. I also make sure to shop the local FFA high school plant sales. These sales may be only open for a short period, so check with the high schools on sale dates. Emerald Desert Nursery in Quincy and Derby Canyon Natives in Peshastin are often mentioned by other Master Gardeners for both their quality and variety.

Did I mention that my favorite part of buying a locally grown plant is the story behind it? What can I say? As a retired teacher, stories and storytelling are second nature to me. Whether it’s a Master Gardener, a local business, local farmers market seller or a high school FFA student, they are all willing to answer your questions and you can hear their passion and stories for plants as they answer your questions.

The other part is sharing your successes and failures with a plant when you go back the following year. It gives the grower a chance to ask some questions and perhaps point out things to you that will help and provides them feedback that can make decisions on which varieties work best locally.