"What’s happening at your favorite Garden Center this time of year?" by the Whistling Gardener

Why hello Hellebores!  Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Why hello Hellebores! Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

January is typically a slow month in the garden and since I don’t have a long list of chores for you to accomplish this month I thought it might be enlightening to share a little information on what is happening at your favorite garden center.

Nurseries are seasonal businesses, but unlike a ski resort that actually closes down in the off-season, nurseries have busy and slow months and for the most part are open all year long.

There is a distinct rhythm that carries us through the year, starting in mid-January with the arrival of bare root roses, trees, and shrubs. Many of our garden accessories and fertilizers that were ordered last fall arrive this month and quickly fill up our shelves.

There are always a few repairs and maintenance that can only be done when we aren’t slammed with customers and there is not a lot of stock on the ground that we have to work around.

By February, summer blooming bulbs have arrived despite the fact that most gardeners won’t purchase them until March or April. Frost hardy herbs and perennials start showing up on our benches along with cool season veggies and by the end of the month we are fully stocked.

What always surprises me is how early all this happens, typically long before most gardeners are ready to get back out into the garden.

There are two specific crops that nurseries only receive once a year, those being roses and fruit trees. In both cases, these plants were ordered back in June of the previous year and it is always a bit risky as to which varieties and how many we should bring in.

From a gardener’s perspective, it is important to understand that once we sell through our inventory of these two items, with a few exceptions, there won’t be any more until the next year.

If you have your heart set on a particular rose or fruit tree variety, the sooner you get into the nursery the better chance you will have of finding it. Much like Costco, if you see something you want you better buy it then because it probably won’t be there the next time.

January is the start of “bare root” season for nurseries, which is a great opportunity for gardeners to save some money. Not all nurseries handle this season the same way, but essentially what happens is that we all receive trees from our growers that were dug out of the field last fall, all the soil was washed off their roots, they were put into cold storage, and finally shipped to us this month. We then either heel them into sawdust beds or pot them up, but in either case, when you come in to purchase your tree we very unceremoniously take them out of the pot and throw them into a plastic bag, whereby you beat feet back home and plunge them into your garden before they dry out.

All this might seem a little crazy, but for certain types of plants it works quite well. Just remember that this only happens when the plants are dormant, so by the end of March it is all over.

Even if you aren’t ready to jump back into your garden, it’s still fun to poke around a garden center in January to see what they are up to. If nothing else, it will help you get in the mood for gardening again.

Sunnyside will be hosting three free classes, “Fruit: It Grows On Trees,” on Saturday, January 27, 2018, at 10:00 am and 2:00 pm; and Sunday, January 28th at 11:00 am.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at

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