How to Shop for Garden Gear at the Big Box Stores

Get the best deal by knowing how and when to shop at garden centers.
Kentucky Geraniums

Kentucky Geraniums

Big box garden centers offer great prices on seasonal items.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Wallitsch Nursery and Garden Center

Image courtesy of Wallitsch Nursery and Garden Center

Big box garden centers offer great prices on seasonal items.

When it comes to garden shopping, there are several ways to do it. There are catalogs, websites, independent garden centers, farm and hardware stores and big box retailers. Many factors come to play when deciding where and how to shop, and all of us probably go to at least two or more sources for our supplies. But when everything else seems to be equal, how do you decide where to shop? To reduce frustration, it is important to think ahead about what and why you are buying before deciding where to go. 

Before you head over to the store to load up on gardening supplies, consider your expectations for the project. 

  • What exactly are you trying to accomplish and what will it take to do it?
  • Are you working from a landscape plan, a plant list or will you “know it when you see it”?
  • Are you trying to tackle a weed, bug or disease problem?
  • What kind of assistance might you require in order to make buying decisions?

The answers to these questions will help you decide which type of store is best for your needs.

Understanding the business model will help make the decision easier. Big retailers offer large quantities and limited selection. They will always have pansies during pansy season, but the color palette will be fairly basic. These stores operate on a high volume of sales of only the best “sure-bet” sellers. You will consistently find commodity items of average or good quality at low prices. You will rarely find new introductions, specialty items or expansive selection within specific categories. Don’t expect to pick from twenty, or even ten, varieties of Japanese maple at a big retailer. When it comes to selection, you could complete just about any project from start to finish by shopping at a big box retailer, but the outcome would be directed by the limited offering.

Staffing at big retailers is based on personality and ability to perform within the system. You will always find friendly, helpful associates; but it is uncommon to find someone with formal horticultural training. If you have a high degree of confidence in your own knowledge base (and you’re not afraid to read your own labels), by all means proceed. Otherwise, plan on doing some independent research before you go. 

When shopping big box retailers for gardening supplies there are a few general guidelines that will help you get the most out of your trip:

Check out advertisements and online promotions. They generally have great deals on in-season items.

When you go to the store for these items, double check quality before making the purchase. It never makes sense to buy poor quality.

  • Shop regularly, even if you do not intend to make a purchase. That is the only way to establish a base-line knowledge of what constitutes a good deal. Build this knowledge by comparison shopping at multiple venues.
  • Never assume you are getting the best price available. Check competing businesses, ask about price matching policies and be prepared with a copy of the competitor’s ad.
  • Big boxes often don’t mind selling “shop worn” or overstocked items at a deep discount in order to move the product. Beware of diseased, infested or irreversibly damaged products.
  • Broken bags of mulch, soil, stone, etc. may be bought for deep discounts. Always ask. 

We regularly shop at big box retailers that are close to our home. Due to the sheer number of locations, it is usually more convenient to go to these chain stores for basic gardening needs. Also, we can be pretty sure that we are getting a very competitive price, if not the lowest on these widely-available items. By doing due diligence, you can feel confident that your decision to buy from a big-box was a good one.

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