Now is the time to prepare for spring

Submitted photo
Peony, a perennial which produces gloriously fragrant flowers, is one of the many plants available at drastically reduced prices in late fall.

CAMBRIDGE — As the days grow shorter, the trees bare and flowers almost non-existent, you might look upon this season as the gloomiest time of year for gardeners– the exact opposite of spring. But you’d be wrong.

November is the time to prepare for spring. And to help you in this glorious, fun-filled task: Bargain basement prices on everything from spring flowering bulbs to bushes, trees, perennials and bird baths. Garden centers, stores and nurseries flog their stock for a fraction of the prices you saw in September and October, sometimes marking down plants to as little as a quarter of the previous cost.
A friend told me that Mowbray’s Garden Center, on Route 50, just outside Cambridge, had chrysanthemums for $2 or $3 – 50% off — and pumpkins for a dollar. I went there and bought a large pumpkin and three mums, two of them a warm bronze shade of orange and one a deep crimson.

The plants were medium-sized and some of their flowers had turned to mush after days of rain. But mums are perennials. Pop them in the ground and they’ll bloom each fall, for years to come. Trim off the faded flowers now and the buds nestled in among the mush will open up and give you color for a few more weeks. Quite a bargain!

In late October, I ventured into Lowe’s in Easton, hoping to find discounted spring bulbs. “They’re the usual price, we don’t put them on sale,” a misinformed employee told me confidently. Ten days later, a friend reported that the prices of those same bulbs had been slashed by 50-75%.
This past Sunday, I telephoned Lowe’s and found out some of their plants were on sale at 75% off. Rosemary, hibiscus and crepe myrtle were among plants that filled “five carts, on the back wall, inside,” an employee told me.
Two months ago, in a fit of what economist and former chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan once called “irrational exuberance”(referring to the stock market), I ordered three fragrant hosta bare roots from a catalogue for $15, plus shipping. In late October, I found the same plant at Walmart, marked down to $1.50 for three bare roots. No shipping charge.
If you prefer to avoid physical stores during the exploding Covid pandemic, online sites offer similarly juicy pickings. In many cases, if you buy at least $50 worth of plants, the nurseries will ship your purchases to you for free.

Breck’s, a mail order gardening company self-described as “the largest importer of Dutch flower bulbs,” currently has an end-of-season sale, with up to 75% off various flower bulbs, perennials and gardening paraphernalia.
If you keep your budget on a short leash, as I do, prices like that will brighten up the dreariest November day. Remember: Bulbs for spring flowers can be planted as late as December, as long as the ground isn’t frozen.
With Thanksgiving drastically scaled down this year for many people worried about guests potentially bringing the corona virus with them, now is the time to go ever so slightly hog wild preparing a glorious feast for the eyes when all those flowers open up and decorate your garden in spring.

Another website, thelilygarden.com, which claims to have some species of lilies and crocosmias “unavailable anywhere else,” offers 30% off all peonies. And the site has more than a few.
Springhillnursery.com has a sale on heated bird baths and other gardening gear. Don’t think the birds won’t thank you by eating your berries….Sorry! I meant to write “by eating the bad bugs in your garden next spring and summer.”

Eastern Shore Nursery, just outside Easton on Dover Road, has some shrubs and trees discounted, according to their website. Incidentally, I learned from the site that their many chestnut trees start to drop their nuts in mid-September and that the public may gather them. Talk about a freebie! Something to remember for next year.
Finally, if you have the good fortune to possess acres of land that you want to plant with trees and shrubs for conservation purposes, lumber or Christmas trees, have a look at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ monthly newsletter for November, which can be found online. It says you can order bushes and trees now for spring planting from the state tree nursery’s online seedling catalog. See: nursery.dnr.maryland.gov.

Most of the deciduous trees cost just $1 each, conifers $0.50-$0.75, and shrubs $1. The catch is you must buy in quantity – large quantities. The nursery sells hardwood seedlings in units of 25, 50, 75 or 100 per species; conifers in any multiple of 50 per species.

Orders can be picked up at the John S. Ayton State Forest Tree Nursery, in Preston, or shipped next spring for a fee.
The website says: “Seedlings purchased from the state nursery cannot be used for landscaping or ornamental purposes” and that homeowners and businesses should “patronize their local private nursery, garden center or landscape contractor.”
But even if you’re a humble gardener with an acre or a quarter of an acre that you want to beautify, you’ll find the online catalog holds a wealth of interesting information. Almost all the plants are natives and pollinator-friendly. Some you may never have heard of, such as Bicolor Lespedeza and Indigobush, both of which were new to me.

Under deciduous trees, you might want to read about Southern crabapple, black cherry, American plum or black locust. The latter can “reintroduce nitrogen to the soil” – aka fertilize it – a precious talent.
I can never resist reading more about plants.
In the meantime, happy gardening!
Editor’s Note: Laetitia Sands is a master gardener in Dorchester County.