In October, plant festivals sprout like orange cosmos after a good rain. And just like that cheery, self- seeding landscape staple, they’re an excellent source of inexpensive, easy-to-grow delights.
Whether you’re new to Florida gardening, a veteran in search of novelty or a frugal shopper with a long holiday gift list, the tao of garden shopping is the plant fair.
If I haven’t yet sold you, add this: Professional growers and expert gardeners staff these sales. They know what they’re talking about and share tips freely. I’ve solved many a problem by asking a vendor who’s selling a healthy version of my sickly specimen.
That said, if you have a lot of questions, look for a booth labeled “Master Gardeners.” These expert volunteers from the University of Florida Extension make it their mission to help us succeed. For free. Bring a chomped leaf, a photo, a bug — they’ll help you figure it out.
You’ll have more fun if you go equipped:
• Because two hands don’t hold much, bring a rolling tote: a folding shopping cart, kids’ wagon or childless stroller works great.
• It may be fall, but think summer. A brimmed hat, sunblock and water will help you last a little longer so you can buy more plants!
• If you’re buying a new-to-you plant, record the name and care tips with a note pad and pen or your note-taking smartphone. (If vendors have detailed signs on their plants, I just snap a photo with my phone.) Memories can’t be trusted, I don’t care how old you are.
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Searching for the great plants we read about can be frustrating. (Yes, I can hear the exasperated sighs in your emails! I feel your pain.) At plant sales like these, you can find those elusive holy grails and discover new ones.
At the very least, you’ll enjoy some fun garden time — no weeding required.
Plant sales and festivals
Here’s a rundown of some plant fairs worth a visit this month:
Fall Plant Festival
Where: USF Botanical Gardens, 12210 USF Pine Drive, Tampa
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 10; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 11
Admission: $5 for non-members; free for members and under 12.
What: More than 50 specialty vendors will have a wide variety of plants, from African violets to palms at this 25th annual event. Catch a veggie-growing workshop at 11 a.m. Saturday and beekeeping basics atnoon Sunday. Lots of scarecrows and a kids’ activity area make this a family event.
For more information: Call (813) 974-2329 or go to gardens.usf.edu.
Kessler Cacti & Things semiannual plant sale
Where: Bearss Groves, 14316 Lake Magdalene Blvd., Tampa
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 10-11
What: Hundreds of succulents at reasonable prices, herbs and orchids. Grower/vendor Mitch Kessler is a local businessman. Fun fact: His award-winning company designed Hillsborough County’s new solid waste recycling program. He’s a succulents expert and a longtime leader of the Central Florida Cactus and Succulent Society.
For more information: Call (813) 644-2579.
Florida Native Plant Sale
Where: Land O’Lakes Community Center, 5401 Land O’Lakes Blvd., Land O’Lakes
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 17
What: Find hundreds of native plants, a selection of books and a Pasco Master Gardeners table at the sale hosted by the Nature Coast (Pasco) chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society. The best reason to go might be garden writer Ginny Stibolt’s workshop, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., on “The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape.” Contrary to myth, there is an art to it!
Fall Native Plant Festival
Where: Wilcox Nursery & Landscape, 12501 Indian Rocks Road, Largo.
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 17
What: Find specialty plants and environmentally friendly garden products at this event hosted by the Pinellas chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society. Don’t miss the workshops:
10 a.m. “Native Herbs, Berries and Other Edibles” 11 a.m. “Sustainable Urban Agriculture” noon “It’s All About the Weeding” 1 p.m. “Milkweed and More: Gardening for Pollinators”
For more information: Email svanno@ tampabay.rr.com.
Lavoy Exceptional Center Plant Sale
Where: 4410 W Main St., Tampa.
When: 8 a.m. to noon (or until sold out) Oct. 24
What: A variety of native and Florida-friendly ornamentals and edibles at ridiculously low prices have made this a sellout event, so arrive early. Lavoy’s students, who deal with cognitive, emotional and physical challenges, help grow the plants in Mr. Allen Boatman’s agriculture class. Proceeds go back to the classroom.