Those who know me quickly learn that I love a bargain.  I get so excited when I find something on sale.  It gets even better when I have a coupon for the sale item.  Finding a good bargain is in my DNA.  I come from a long line of women who love to find great deals.

Well for me, this also extends to the landscape.  Now, it may seem a contradiction when I state to my clients that they can save a lot of money by using large plants.   We all know that large plants cost a lot of money at the nursery.  

I quickly go on to explain to them that I DO NOT recommend buying large-sized plants at the nursery.  In fact, I love finding shrubs in the 1-gallon size at the nursery.  They are much cheaper, which pleases the bargain hunter in me.  What I DO recommend is buying plants in small containers that will grow large fairly quickly.

For example, this 1-gallon Green Cloud Texas Sage cost about $5 dollars at the nursery.

I admit, it is not very impressive and it is hard to imagine what it will look like when it grows up.  But, this is a fast growing shrub and in just 2 – 3 years it will look like this….
 
I’d say that you got a pretty good deal for only $5.
A few years ago, I worked for a home builder, helping new buyers design their new landscapes.  By the time I would meet with them, they had spent a lot of their money already on the inside of their new home.  And so, their budget was quite limited in terms of what they could spend on their landscaping.  
I would then create a design for them using trees and shrubs that would grow large and quickly.  This way, they did not have to spend money on a large amount of plants and their garden would still look very beautiful.
Here are some shrubs that grow quickly and will grow large, as long as you don’t over-prune them.  All of them can be purchased as 1-gallon plants.
 Orange Jubilee (Tecoma x Jubilee)
 Threadleaf Cassia (Senna nemophila)
 Hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa)
 Bougainvillea
Other advantages in starting out using 1-gallon plants as opposed to 5-gallon or larger is that the smaller the initial size of the plant, the easier it is for them to be transplanted.  Not just for the gardener, but it is also easier for the plant as well.  Larger plants can have a more difficult time dealing with transplant shock.
I have been making some changes in my own garden and have been on the look out for shrubs in a 1-gallon size.  I planted a Chaparral Sage (Salvia clevelandii) last month from a 1-gallon container.  
I admit, that it is quite small.  But, it won’t stay this way for long.  Soon, it will soon reach the size of this 3 year old Chaparral Sage that I planted in a commercial landscape….
While you are waiting for your small shrubs to grow large, you can fill in the empty spaces with annuals that you can later pull out once your shrubs start to grow.

Another new addition to my garden is a new Red Bird-of-Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima).  The nurseries are starting to stock them right now and it is easy to find them in 5-gallon sizes.  I had to look a little more carefully before I found the 1-gallon size.
Okay I admit that I almost have to put on my reading glasses to be able to see this tiny shrub.  But it grows so quickly. 
In just 2 – 3 years, it will look like this….
Not too bad for $4, is it?
 
Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a horticulturist, certified arborist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."

14 replies
  1. Edith Hope
    Edith Hope says:

    Dear Noelle, I am sure that your gardening clients and friends are very grateful for your thrifty choices. The growth rate is impressive in such a short time.

    Although I do not know the shrubs you feature very well at all, in my experience of growing Yew [Taxus baccata],which can be very expensive, small plants fed well will rapidly outstrip larger specimens.

    Reply
  2. Turling
    Turling says:

    Excellent advice. We only do 1 gallon pots, with only a couple of exceptions on plants we really wanted that were only in 3 gallons. As I heard the designer Bunny Williams once say, "a garden doesn't look good the first 10 years." There is plenty of time for the 1 gallons to grow.

    Reply
  3. Meredith
    Meredith says:

    It is so true about buying small! I saw a woman leaving the hardware store the other day with a huge, staked, five-gallon tomato plant, price nearly $20 — and I bought a couple of 89-cent babies from the local nursery that I know will catch up and ultimately do better after transplant. (And I only bought those because my baby seedlings are a little behind schedule and I'm impatient. 🙂

    For $4, you got an incredible bargain. The bird of paradise is so beautiful! As is every other plant you've featured in this lovely, clever post… altho the bougainvillea will always be a personal favorite. Here, they are grown as annuals and I've quit buying because the price is ridiculous — so I'll just have to enjoy yours vicariously instead!

    Reply
  4. Liza
    Liza says:

    I think we must've been separated at birth, Noelle.

    This post is great for so many reasons. I'm so tickled that you added the "after" photos – so smart! Really, really well done.

    Reply
  5. Ami
    Ami says:

    I like bargain as well! Since I had a blank garden to start with, I used to buy at least two same plants one time so that I can make some arrangement. After just one year, I realize, there are lots of plants mutilply themselves pretty fast, so I learned to just buy one to same some money! Great advice! Your client must appreciate your choice very much!

    Reply
  6. Curbstone Valley Farm
    Curbstone Valley Farm says:

    Very good advice, and I love the chaparral sage! The only plants I buy in larger containers are either very slow growing species, or occasionally a larger specimen tree, where the smaller trees wouldn't tolerate the pressure from our local wildlife as well as larger one can.

    Reply
  7. Floridagirl
    Floridagirl says:

    Being a frugal person myself and living with an even more frugal man, I've always bought the smallest plants I could find as well. Most of them have grown phenomenally, thanks to all the heat and humidity here. Unfortunately, I didn't always consider that some plants grow painfully slow. In hindsight, I very much wish I had bought larger versions of certain plants like magnolias, camellias, azaleas, and palms. Looking at them today, years later, I would have gladly paid two or three times the money at the nursery. Of course, I say that now…like money grows on trees or something!

    Reply
  8. camissonia
    camissonia says:

    I've had much more success establishing 1-gallon plants than the 5-gallons The larger plants often look appealing because of their size and stature. But, they are also oftentimes root bound and end up being expensive casualties in the nascent garden.

    Reply

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