Thrifty Gardening Tips: Think Small Plants

Thrifty Gardening Tips: Think Small Plants

Here is Part 4 in The Home Garden’s series of posts about how to garden on a budget.

Often when people go to the plant nursery they look around and see what they can get for that immediate impact in their landscape. They see larger more established plants and can easily see how they will fit in their garden. If these same people just stop and look around they might find a smaller and cheaper alternative! If you think smaller plants you will not only save money but sometimes you will end up with just as good of a plant just as fast.

Plants at nurseries come in all sizes from tiny little 2 inch pots to large gallon pots capable of holding fairly large trees. In general the larger a plant is the more mature and expensive it is. Smaller plants have a great advantage over the larger ones: the root systems are smaller. Why are smaller roots an advantage? The smaller root system will grow faster than a more established root system in new soil since it is better able to adapt to the ground conditions of your garden. This effect is easily illustrated with trees. When you plant two trees of the same kind in the same conditions, with the only difference being their size, the smaller one will eventually catch up to the larger one. It’s all because of the roots!

Fast growing trees are another pitfall people purchasing plants may possibly encounter (how’s that for alliteration!) Take a crape myrtle for example. They are extremely fast growing trees/shrubs that can in one season grow 4-6 feet depending on the variety. When you have a plant that grows that fast why buy the one that is twice as large? You won’t be able to tell the difference in one year and you might save 20 bucks!

Sometimes it pays to be patient. This past Saturday I went bargain hunting at one of our local nurseries and found a plant I’ve been wanting to add to our garden, Caryopteris x clandonensis or blue mist shrub. My 4 new Caryopteris ‘Longwood Blue’s will grow into 3-4 foot shrubs with blue blossoms that will attract butterflies and hummingbirds. These purchases were young plants, not discount plants, that were in 4 inch pots. I only payed $1.99 for each of them. Next year these four perennial shrubs will be thick with foliage and blooms and I’ll have saved a bundle.

You really can save money when you buy smaller plants as long as you can wait for good things to come!

Take a Look Back at some of the previous Thrifty Gardening Tips!

Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 1: Buying and Saving Discount Discount Plants
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 1 Follow Up: Buying and Saving Discount Plants
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 2: The Generosity of Gardeners
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 3: Save Gas, Only Mow Where You Go


Dave has written since 2007. He gardens on an acre and a half where he raises his 4 children. He enjoys growing vegetables, herbs, and propagating plants. Dave has a side business growing and selling heirloom vegetables and herb plants through Blue Shed Gardens and works as a real estate agent in Spring Hill, TN.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. It is amazing how quickly small plants and trees grow! I snap pictures to remind me because I may look at a tree and think, darn thing is not growing. Then go back and look at a month or year ago and see just how it HAS grown! When seeing something everyday, you just dont realize how quickly they grow. Kind of like a child, keep an eye on them as they grow in a blink of an eye!

    A great series of cost saving tips Dave!

  2. Skeeter,

    You’ve got that right! It’s easy to not notice what you see every day then sudden you look back and see how far things have come. I’m glad you’re enjoying the tips!

  3. Your tips have been great, Dave! I like the idea of getting the most bang for your buck. 🙂 Gardening teaches patience, I believe, and I’ll always be willing to wait for a smaller plant to mature and thrive if it means I can buy 2, instead of one, of them. 🙂

  4. Plants do grow so fast that you quickly forget how small they were. Kind of like kiddos!

  5. Dear Mr Thrifty Gardener,

    I just bought Zinnia plants for 25 cents a piece at Lowes! I am feeling pretty good…they will thrive with some water and care then flower for a bit longer….I knew you’d get a kick out of that!

    I have had to buy small trees, no way can I afford the big ones….they grow and are just as lovely….


  6. Nancy,

    You’re right about gardening teaching patience. Good things come to those who wait! I’m with you and I’d rather buy more of something and wait for it to grow than to spend extra money on a more mature plant. They will both get there eventually!


    Kiddos for sure! It seems like our two year old was just crawling. Now she’s almost three and talks our ears off!


    Discount zinnias! Now you can really get a bang for your buck if you collect the seed and plant the seed next year! Small trees catch up to the big ones before too long. The larger one’s can be expensive!

  7. I spotted 1 gallon perennials for $2.00 at Lowes yesterday but with this drought I had to pass them up. I am loosing too much stuff and having a difficult time keeping the things I now have watered. It was tough to pass them by, I felt anxiety looking at them knowing I could not take part in that bargain! Sniff sniff…

  8. I agree, Dave. Smaller plants do grow faster, so there’s really no advantage to buying a larger plant. Although when I buy veggies, sometimes I’ll buy the larger ones because the fruit has actually started to from. I’m impatient, so in that case, I will pay a little bit more 🙂

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