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Where to Buy Flower Plants (That Last) for Your Western Garden

by | Updated: Jun 1, 2021

oung woman stands in a local garden center in Colorado. She figured out where to buy flowers for her garden in Colorado.

Buying flower plants at your local home improvement store is definitely convenient. But did you know you have other options on where to buy flowers for your garden in western states like Colorado, Utah and Wyoming?

Let’s say you’d like to find unusual flowers in additional colors

Or more options for flowers that thrive in our tough climate (yes, please!) …

Or more plants that have been locally grown

If yes, there are OTHER garden stores where you can buy flowers, including:

  • Locally-owned garden centers. They specialize in plants for your home and garden. (Think of this like going to a dedicated wine shop to buy a bottle of wine.)
  • Online retailers where you can order hard-to-find plants. They’re like Zappos for flowers.

In this article, you’ll get a high-level look at the pros and cons of different types of garden stores, so you can choose where to buy flowers for your garden in Colorado, Utah and similar western states.

Infographic showing where to buy flower plants in Colorado: Comparing home improvement stores, local garden centers and nurseries, and online plant stores

Let’s take a closer look at your options.

Home improvement stores

(A normal starting point)

Plant selection:

  • Your plant choices are limited … but if picking flowers feels overwhelming, a limited selection can be a good thing!

Types of flowers available for your garden:

  • You’ll find common, popular flowers.
  • Different flowers bloom at different times of the season. So, the store’s plant selection will change over the spring, summer and fall, depending on what’s flowering at that time.

Knowledge of staff:

  • Hit or miss …
  • Sometimes, you’ll find really helpful and knowledgeable employees. Other times, you may find employees “who normally don’t work in this department.”
  • It depends on your store and who is working at the time.

Pricing:

  • You can find inexpensive prices.

Guarantee:

  • Some stores offer a one-year guarantee on perennials.
  • If the plant dies in the first year, they’ll replace or refund it as long as you have the original receipt.

Tip: Ask if your store offers a guarantee on perennials. If they do, put your receipt someplace where you’ll remember it.

How to be a smarter shopper at home improvement stores:

(1) Be aware that some flowers and shrubs you’ll find are not an ideal fit for our semi-arid climate.

Some plants are a better fit for regions of the country that get more precipitation (meaning you’ll need to give them a lot of supplemental water here).

Others just don’t do well in our soil conditions.

In the photo below, you’ll see an Endless Summer Hydrangea. My local home improvement store sells them every summer, and they are GORGEOUS in the store … but generally, they don’t thrive in Colorado gardens. It’s tough to recreate their blooms every year. They need a lot of water. And they need acidic soil to give you blue flowers. (We have alkaline soil in the West, so their flowers are pink.)

Many hydrangea don't grow as well in Colorado, including this Endless Summer Hydrangea.

(2) Watch out for plants that have grown too big for their containers.

Roots are growing at the same time that plants are growing, so the containers need to be big enough for that root growth.

Sometimes, plants outgrow the size of their containers. This means the roots have gotten too big for the pots.

When you remove the pot, you may see the roots are tightly circling the plant. This is known as “root girdling.” You’ll need to take extra steps to fix it (read: extra work), so your plant doesn’t strangle itself.

Tip: As a general rule, the size of the plant should be about equal to the size of the container. You may want to skip a plant if the pot looks small compared to the plant OR you see A LOT of roots coming out of the bottom of the container. You could be buying a problem.

In the photo below, you’ll see an example of a plant with a lot of roots growing out of the container. (Big red flag!) The roots were a matted mess. It also looked like the roots had been trimmed off. This plant was likely in this container for a long time. It would have been happier if it had been transplanted to a larger pot. Roots need room to grow. I decided to skip buying this plant.

Roots growing from bottom of flower container

(3) Sometimes, annuals and perennials are mixed together at these stores.

Annuals are the flowers that give you big, showy color for one summer, but they don’t return next year. Perennials are flowers that return year after year, but they normally bloom for a few weeks only.

If you’re unsure whether a plant will return next year or not, you may want to ask.

Local garden centers

(aka, “plant nurseries”)

Plant selection:

  • You’ll find a good-to-extensive selection of flowers.
  • This can be great for finding more “wow”-worthy flowers, but it also can feel a little intimidating on your first visit. (This feeling is 100% normal, by the way. It will go away as you build some momentum with gardening!)

Types of flowers available for your garden:

  • You’ll find a wider range of flowers.
  • You’re also likely to find seeds, bulbs, vegetable plants, indoor plants, shrubs, and/or trees.
  • The flower selection will likely change over the spring, summer and fall, depending on what’s flowering (“in bloom”) at that time.
  • Often times, many of these plants have been grown at local or regional greenhouses and farms. This means these plants may adjust better to our western growing conditions when you plant them.

Knowledge of staff:

  • Knowledgeable (typically).
  • Because these stores are specialized, there are usually employees on-site who can answer your questions.

Pricing:

  • Their plants can be a little bit pricier, but not always.
  • Keep in mind, quality and price can be related. These plants may be grown in better soil and have fewer issues with girdled roots.
  • They may offer sales or special offers. (“Buy three, quart-size plants for just $x.”)

Guarantee:

  • Some offer a guarantee on certain types of plants. Some don’t. It varies widely by garden center.
  • If the store doesn’t mention it, it doesn’t hurt to ask!
  • It also helps to save your receipt.

How to be a smarter shopper at local garden centers:

  • Watch for plants that are too big for their pots: While this isn’t quite as common at local garden centers, it’s still important to be on the lookout for perennials that have a lot of roots growing out of the bottom of the pot or plants that seem much bigger than their containers. Remember, you may be buying a problem.
  • Some flowers you’ll find don’t necessarily do well in Colorado and the West. As I mentioned above, some plants may need A LOT of water here. But this really depends on the garden center you’re visiting. Some stores are better than others in carrying western-friendly plants.

How to find local garden centers in your area:

  • To find locally-owned garden centers, search for “garden centers,” “plant nurseries” or “plant stores” in [your city/town] on the Internet. These phrases may pull up some home improvement stores too. It depends on where you live.
  • Here’s a list of local garden centers by city that carry Plant Select flowers. Plant Select is a Colorado-friendly brand of flowers plants and shrubs created by Colorado State University, the Denver Botanic Gardens and local horticulturists. It’s a great brand for western states like Colorado, Wyoming and Utah because these plants tend to grow well in our western conditions, are hail resistant and are less work. (Can I get an amen?!) The Plant Select website (above) lists where to buy these flowers in Colorado and Wyoming. I am not an affiliate for this brand. I’m just sharing it for your convenience.
    Look for flowers marked with a Plant Select tag at your local garden center.

Online retailers

(They’re like Zappos for flowers)

Plant selection:

  • You’ll find unusual flowers and exclusive plants that are often hard to find elsewhere.
  • Typically, they have a finite supply, so once they sell out of a plant, it’s gone for the season.

Types of flowers available for your garden:

  • These stores often have a specialty, such as perennials, bulbs (like tulips), cut flowers (the flowers you see in wedding bouquets or centerpieces) and/or seeds.

Knowledge of staff:

  • Knowledgeable (available by phone or email).

Pricing:

  • It varies, but be sure to factor in shipping costs.
  • They may offer sales and special offers (like free shipping) from time to time.

Guarantee:

  • Some may offer a first-year guarantee if you follow their planting guidelines. They’ll replace or refund the plant if it doesn’t survive.
  • If you’re interested in a guarantee, always ask whether the online store offers it.

How you buy flowers at these stores. It’s DIFFERENT than buying local:

  • You indicate the type of plant you want from a website or print catalog.
  • The individual plant is picked out for you.
  • The plant is mailed to you — often on a schedule, such as a certain week of the growing season.
  • The plant may be small to make it easier to ship.
  • If your plant isn’t available, the company may substitute a different plant. (They’ll likely notify you first.)

How to be a smarter shopper online:

  • Look for mail order companies that specialize in flower plants for the semi-arid West — like High Country Gardens based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (I am not an affiliate for this company. I’m simply sharing it for your convenience.)
  • If you are ordering plants from a company that’s based in another region of the country, keep in mind:
    (1) Flower plants that thrive in the East, Midwest, South, Pacific Northwest and along the West Coast may not do as well in our high elevation, semi-arid, inter-mountain West.
    (2) You likely need to read between the lines on flower descriptions because the descriptions may be written with the East Coast (and their climate) in mind. For example, their sun conditions are different than ours. The sun is more intense at our elevation than in other parts of the country. 6 hours of afternoon sun in Colorado can be like full day of sunlight in other regions. Other parts of the country also get more annual precipitation than we do, so we may have a different definition of what it means for a plant to be “drought tolerant.”
  • Know that plants can get a little beat up in transit. See the photo below for an example of a flower plant I received from an online retailer. The before image shows how the plant arrived. The after shows what the plant looked like after I removed the broken pieces. (This plant grew like crazy and was thriving by mid-summer, so don’t let the first impression scare you.) As long as the roots are okay and you follow the planting instructions that come with your plant, your plant should be okay. Good roots are firm. They look white or creamy in color. (Poor roots are soft, mushy and brown.) If you ever have concerns, you can reach out to the online retailer’s customer support team.

Before and after image of a flower plant from an online plant store

How to find online retailers:


Yes, there are other places where you can buy flowers for gardens

… ranging from your local grocery store to Costco.

But if you’re just getting the hang of gardening in Colorado, you want to know where to buy flowers that last, AND you want to keep it SIMPLE, these are good options to get started.

Related tips that may interest you:

Hey, do you know your flowerpot personality?

Take this fun, 2-minute quiz to find out! You’ll also get personalized ideas for flowers, so growing flowers is relaxing — not taxing.

Take this fun quiz >>

© 2020-2021, Go West Gardener
You’re welcome to share a link to this article on social media sites, but no other re-use in any form without written permission.

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Ann from Go West Gardener with her flowerpots and garden

Hey there, I'm Ann

I’m a Certified Colorado Gardener, dog mama and Midwesterner-turned-Colorado girl. I help budding gardeners in the inter-mountain west get more confident with flower gardening, so you can create an outdoor space you love. More about Ann >>

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