Here's what they offer that online retailers and big box stores don't.

By Nancy Mattia
March 19, 2019
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It's tempting to order everything you need for your garden online. You can get it all-from organic potting soil to cherry blossom trees-and it can all be delivered at no charge the next day. It's certainly the easy way to go, but is it the best way to create a healthy garden? Big box stores with garden centers offer a huge inventory, but if you're wondering which mulch to buy or when you should plant tulips, you're pretty much on your own-staff members are scarce, and those that are there very rarely have much knowledge on the subject. There's no one to help you online either. At a local garden center, however, every salesperson more than likely has a ton of gardening knowledge pertinent to your area, and they're happy to talk mulch and planting timelines with you.

Read on for more reasons to make the local garden center your go-to.

They know local conditions.

"The staff at local garden centers are often gardeners themselves, and have experience with local climate, soils, and plants," says Todd Forrest, the Arthur Ross Vice President for Horticulture and Living Collections at the New York Botanical Garden. Talking, asking questions, and getting qualified answers from experts who will steer you to the right plants and tools, will make you more secure in your abilities to create a gorgeous garden on your own.

They care about the quality.

Owners of local garden centers spend each day with their flowers and shrubs-that means they give them their undivided attention and care. "Many big box stores stock flowers, shrubs, and other plants on consignment, so it's not a big deal to them if they die. They're often only paying for what sells," says Sean Duffy of Stone Mill Gardens in Northern New Jersey. "It makes a big difference to us if we lose even one plant, so we're personally watering, deadheading, and pruning our inventory each day. We even move shrubs around the store throughout the day to make sure they're getting the right amount of sunlight. We want each plant to go home with you in its very best condition."

You're supporting the local community.

Some garden centers, like Duffy's, grow a number of their own flowers and shrubs, but what they can't grow themselves they purchase from other local vendors. "We all try to help each other out," he says. By supporting local, family-owned businesses, you're keeping more of your money in your own community-even the businesses you shop with will put it back into your area's economy. Plus, by shopping at garden centers that are local to you, you'll not only be buying fresher plants but you'll also have reduced their carbon footprint since the growers aren't that far away from you. Feel good that no planes were involved in your purchase.

They're into real-life displays.

Another good reason to patronize your local garden center is that many have display gardens that allow customers to see plants in a garden setting, rather than just in containers, says Forrest. It allows you to get inspired when you see examples of sun- and shade-loving plants, trees, and shrubs existing together in a real landscape. At Stone Mill Gardens, Duffy says his team is constantly putting together different mixed pots and setting up seasonal displays that customers can draw inspiration from.

They're gardener magnets.

Whether you're new to gardening or a seasoned pro, you'll find common ground at your local garden center. "They're great places to meet other gardeners," says Forrest, "and you can share ideas, observations, and laments."

They're handy to have around.

Of course, another big reason to spend your hard-earned dollars locally is that, without the support of their neighbors, garden centers and other small businesses would be extinct. What would you do when, for example, you're watering your newly planted flowers and realize your hose is broken? Run to that nearby garden center, buy a new hose, and finish watering your plants-no expensive overnight delivery necessary. And when you need a professional's help choosing and planting your flowers? The employees from your favorite local garden center-especially those with landscaping services-will be more than happy to help you bring your vision to life.

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