Bay Area Plant Nurseries

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Nursery customers often wonder why specific plants are not available throughout the year. Unlike merchandise carried in hardware stores or bookstores, many plants are only available at certain times. Knowing which plant to buy, when it is available, the best size to purchase, and when to select it at the nursery makes us better consumers and gardeners.

If you know exactly which rose, rhododendron or wisteria you want to purchase, then the best time to buy is when these plants first arrive. You can pick out the strongest, best shaped specimens and plant them long before they bloom. If however, you’re waiting to see if this or that specific cultivar is the color you want, then you must keep a close eye on your plant candidates. Some customers visit their local nursery once a week so they can see the first blooms on a plant they are considering. (When plants come into the bloom, they sell fast, and it can be frustrating to find a plant you are considering has sold and more won’t be available until next year!) Nurseries take advantage of this phenomenon and arrange blooming plant displays for maximum visual impact and impulse buying.

Most customers visit nurseries on weekends between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. In response to this rush, nurseries are fully stocked just before the weekend. Fridays and early Saturday mornings are the best time to visit for items that may sell out during the weekend. By Sunday, flowering bedding plants and vegetables will be picked over. Slower weekdays are the best times to get assistance from nursery personnel. During the height of spring madness there may be only fleeting moments of quiet times in your local nursery. Some of the more progressive establishments such as Yamagami’s Nursery in Cupertino, staff outdoor information booths for their customers’ convenience.

Your local retail nursery and garden center rely on suppliers from around the world: bulbs from Holland, seeds from England, conifers from the Pacific Northwest, perennials from Canada and subtropical plants from southern California. Unusually cold or wet weather in any of these locations often delays shipments to your favorite plant store. With these factors in mind, the following guide to when plants are available at your local nursery must be seen as only an estimate for when they will arrive.


Bareroot roses, fruit trees, blueberries, strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb and cane berries arrive. As soon as any growth begins these plants should be potted up to protect the emerging fragile roots. Nurseries often have bareroot sales in February.

Summer flowering bulbs such as dahlias, gladiolus, lilies, tuberous begonias and more arrive. Sasanqua camellias are in peak bloom in January, followed by the hybrids — japonicas and reticulatas — in February. Cool season annuals offering immediate color include pansies, Iceland poppies, primroses and violas. After a short winter hiatus, lobelia in six packs and four inch pots returns.


March is the month that spring bursts forth in the nursery. The quiet days of winter are only briefly remembered on cold or wet days. Otherwise plants are arriving daily and hordes of gardeners sensing a chance to get outside, come into the nursery to see what is new and if their old favorites have arrived. The demand for plants exceeds the supply with many wholesale nurseries waiting for their plants to reach a saleable size, while most gardeners are ready to plant now! Last chance for summer flowering bulbs. Rhododendrons and azaleas show color. Perennials arrive from several suppliers. Pacific coast hybrid iris begin blooming in a variety of selected colors.

Gardeners who wish to play Russian roulette with early plantings of tomatoes get their wish this month as warm season vegetables including beans, peppers, squash and tomatoes arrive. Warm season annuals including impatiens, marigolds and petunias are readily available.


Spring is intense in the garden and even more intense in retail nurseries! Plants are arriving daily, the phone rings off the hook and gardeners are grabbing plants off the racks as they are wheeled into the nursery. Almost anything that blooms, looks healthy and is placed in view of customers is likely to sell out quickly. These are the months when the lion’s share of the years business happens. It’s an exciting place to be on the weekends.


School is out, many people are on vacation and business backs away from spring madness. Many perennials and roses have developed size and are showing color.


Bareroot bearded iris arrive and the fall planting season for spring flowering bulbs begins. The arrival of fall blooming bulbs such as fall crocus and colchicum are followed by spring blooming bulbs such as crocus, hyacinths, narcissus and tulips. Cool season bedding flowers and vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower arrive in six packs. Chrysanthemums and ornamental cabbage and kale provide excellent fall color. Flower and vegetable seeds labeled for next year’s planting begin showing up on seed racks.

Fall is a great time to plant California native plants. After the rains begin you can back off of regular watering and by the following summer they should be on their way to being fully established, requiring only occasional supplemental water.


Rhododendrons and camellias arrive. If you’re looking for plants with fall color, now is the time to check out their foliage. Plants from Oregon nurseries arrive including conifers, maples, magnolias, deciduous shrubs, plus balled and burlapped specimens. Cyclamen begin blooming.


Its the cool and rainy time of the year but several seasonal plants including poinsettias, Christmas cactus, cyclamen and cymbidiums are prime this month. Bareroot roses arrive with the most popular and hard to get roses selling out quickly.

Planting size and condition

Nursery grown plants are available in a variety of sizes. A general rule of thumb is that fast growing plants are best purchased in smaller pots while it’s a better investment to purchase larger specimens of slower growing plants.

Rosemary, for example, can be purchased in six packs, four inch pots, gallon and five gallon pots. When rosemary is to be planted as an extensive ground cover, then inexpensive six packs of the prostrate variety are the recommended size because of the quantities needed. If, however, you need one large rosemary as a specimen plant or for active culinary harvesting, then the one gallon or five gallon size is recommended. Gardeners who plan on growing a collection of rosemary varieties usually prefer four inch potted plants. (The recent proliferation of four inch sized containers of perennials and woody plants gives the consumer a less expensive way to acquire a wide variety of plants.)

Slow growing specimen woody plants such as Japanese Maples are usually purchased in five gallon or larger pots. Whatever size you buy, be sure to pick out plants with good structure, i.e., plants with strong stems that are evenly spaced around and vertically along the main trunk. When given the choice of a plant in bud or full bloom, pick the budded plant. There is less chance of damaging the flowers when planting and the bloom period will be longer.


Tender plants are best planted out in the springtime after any chance of frost has passed. These plants will have from spring through fall to become established before the chill of winter arrives. Poorly draining moist soils can also kill plants during wet winters. Plants susceptible to root rot need organic amended soils with the ground sloping away from the plant, allowing excess water to quickly drain away.

Gardeners come into nurseries and find themselves purchasing impulse plants that are in bloom and looking beautiful, as well as buying their favorite plants, and also looking for plants to correct problem situations. Some customers do their homework beforehand, others rely on the information signs they read in the nursery or ask nursery personnel for help. No matter what your frame of mind or garden needs the road to becoming a more successful nursery customer is in becoming aware of the yearly cycles occur at your local nursery.

This month’s web sites to check out:

San Marcos Growers A wholesale nursery in Santa Barbara that grows a wide variety of plants. Their web site has plenty of information including descriptive lists on grasses, grevilleas, lavenders, phormiums, vines and more. Retail customers cannot buy from wholesalers but you can download their plant information and ask your local retail nursery to carry their plants.

Gunnera page Gunneras range in size from small ground cover perennials to perhaps the worlds largest herbaceous perennial, Gunnera manicata, which grows to over seven feet tall. The author of this page has collected information on all of the worlds Gunnera species. This home page is a great example of specialized botanical information that is massing on the internet.

California Native Plant Society (CNPS) Native plant enthusiasts can gather the latest news on plant conservation, CNPS publications, similar web links and even a kids page with timely topics such as “Why do plants have flowers”.

Landscape and garden designer web pages:
Lynn’s Landscape and Garden. Lynn Hoyt, landscape designer in Raleigh, North Carolina web page with good photos, links and a periodically updated bloom report. I love the cat chasing the insect!

Planet Horticulture is a newly formed garden design firm based in San Leandro. Roger Raiche and David McCrory, locally known horticulturists, have put together an informative web page with photos of native plants and local gardens.

Thyme List Cheryl & Wayne Renshaw (Santa Clara gardeners) new home page with a great descriptive list of thyme varieties with several flower pictures.