TIP: What to Do When You Can’t Plant Right Away

My Garden Life
April 19, 2019
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Well, you’ve done it again–walked into the garden center just to pick up a new trowel or a hose connector and walked out with a brand-new flowering shrub, a tray of blooming annuals, or even a sapling or two. It’s so hard to pass by late season plant sales or lines of healthy, blooming bushes and trees. But when you get your new purchase home, what happens if you find you can’t get it in the ground right away?

  • Maybe it’s been raining for three weeks straight and the garden is unworkable.
  • Maybe the weather has turned, the ground is frozen, and there’s no way to dig until spring.
  • Maybe you haven’t had time to build the garden bed or clear the perfect spot.
  • Maybe you just don’t have room for the plant at all.


Never fear. While most reputable garden centers will accept returns within a reasonable time, there’s no need to give up your new plant if you really have fallen in love. You can:


Rootbound nursery plant being repotted

If you can’t get your plant in the ground within a couple of weeks, you’ll need to move it out of the pot it came in and into something a little roomier. Trees or shrubs left too long in their original containers can become root bound, stunting growth and even eventually killing the plant. Be sure to separate and spread the roots, which might have already begun to twist around inside plant’s original container.

Find a Healthy Place to Store Your Plant

Rainy day with Orange Calendula Flowers

If you’re going to be able to get your plant into the ground within a few weeks, then keep it in its new roomier pot, in a sheltered location near where it will eventually go. Be mindful that plants in pots can dry out faster than their compatriots in the soil, so water well.

Watch the Weather

Tomato plants in pots

Often the reason you can’t plant an impulse purchase right away is that it’s too early in the season. Many a gardener has been tempted well before the last frost date to pick up warm weather vegetables like tomatoes and peppers and tender annuals like begonias and geraniums. These purchases should be repotted and placed in a warm room near or, even better, under lights until the soil outside warms.

Mulch Over or Store for Winter

Bury plant pots in ground to protect tree roots

The other most common dilemma is what to do with trees, bushes and other perennials you purchase in the fall without the time or room to plant them.

  • If they are repotted, they can be kept in a cool but not freezing location, like an unheated garage, until spring.
  • Or if it’s a matter of not having the right space prepared yet, you can dig a temporary hole for your plant, drop the pot in, and cover with soil and a top layer of high-quality mulch, digging the plant back up and moving it after its period of dormancy is done in the spring.

Avoid leaving potted plants outside and above ground in freezing weather. The soil in a pot gets much colder than the soil underground, and most plants’ roots can’t survive freezing.

Repurpose the Plant

Plants as Gifts_Orange Mini Rose_Red Flowering Kalanchoe

Sometimes those love at first sight relationships just aren’t meant to be. If that’s the case, consider giving your plant as a gift to a friend with a larger garden or donating it to a local school, shelter, or nursing home, many of which have active gardening programs. Or turn it into a houseplant and keep it inside. Many tender annuals–like begonias, geraniums, and coleus –can be kept alive year-round when they are brought indoors.

There’s no need to regret your impulse purchase at the garden center. Even if you can’t fit it in your garden right away, there are plenty of ways for you to keep it alive and part of your life.

Do you have other tricks for keep your plants healthy until you plant them? Share your tips in the comments below!


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