Is it a good idea to buy plants on sale in garden centres at this time of year?

Seed potatoes and bulbs on sale – it's actually not too late, you know

DISCOUNT racks in garden centres may seem a haven for straggly specimens but you can pick up bargains. Here's some advice from Christine Walkden, resident gardening expert of The One Show:

:: Summer annuals at a snip: You can now purchase packs of summer annuals for a fraction of their original cost, as well as ready-made hanging baskets and containers, which if kept fed, watered and dead-headed, should last well into September. But you need to check the plant's health before you buy.

"I would avoid anything soft, squidgy, obviously diseased or weak, the normal poor quality things," says Walkden. "If the roots of discounted bedding plants are coming through the bottom of the tray, it's probably best to avoid them as they are likely to have been there a long time and may have been starved."

:: Consider perennials that have finished flowering: Plants in bloom or coming into flower are likely to be more expensive, while perennials and shrubs which have finished flowering may well be among the sale items.

"If perennials have just been chopped back and have a good root system, and the roots are white and fleshy, that's another bargain to be had," says Walkden.

:: Bulbs and seed potatoes: Some centres have been selling off seed potatoes which should have ideally been planted earlier in the year. "You can plant seed potatoes until the end of June, while garden centres will be stocking autumn-flowering bulbs now which should be planted by late August. Bulbs are interesting because you can plant them totally out of season and they will just flower much later. I know lots of people who plant their spring bulbs in December, because they forget, and they'll just flower later."

:: Consider cheaper varieties: Some specimens may be more expensive than less popular varieties. Acers, for example, can be extremely pricey, but some argue you can get the same effect with cheaper trees such as cherry or Amelanchier.

Lifting and dividing plants can also be an economical way of increasing your stock and you can do this with many plants, from dainty-looking astrantia, to tropical-looking hostas, heleniums, rudbeckias and crocosmias.

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