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A plant nursery is designed for the propagation and care of young plants. Often, it contains one or more large greenhouses, which helps shelter new plants from frosts or excessive heat. It may also include complex watering systems to cut down on the labor of workers. Most shops that exclusively sell plants are called a nursery regardless of whether they actually start and grow their own plants or purchase them elsewhere.
A nursery may sell plants at retail value to the public, or may exist to sell wholesale to other nurseries. In some cases, a plant nursery will specialize in one kind of plant or tree, for example roses, or Japanese maples. This type may still be open to the public a few days of the week, but may primarily do business with other retailers.
For the collector of rare specimens, a specialized nursery is often the best place to find a particular species of plant that is difficult to obtain elsewhere. Occasionally, a wholesaler is open to an avid collector, or can give information about where to find a specific type of plant.
The retail plant nursery often includes sheltered greenhouse areas and also outdoor space where more mature plants are kept. Items available for purchase vary, but one can usually find landscape flowers in plastic packs for relatively low prices. It is fairly usual to see offerings like impatiens, petunias, or pansies in small packs. In large nurseries, one may find a few more offerings that are a little unusual. For example, lysianthis or species geraniums may be available in a larger nursery, but hard to find in a smaller one.
Even when a nursery has a number of different plants to offer, it may specialize in a few plants, like fuchsias or roses. It often stocks plants that are likely to sell, since there is little guarantee that plants will sell. Some plants have a short shelf life. Annuals, for instance, will usually only last a year before requiring replacement.
Towards the end of the planting season, one can often find sales on certain plants. When the sales are on perennials that will bloom yearly, they may represent real savings. However, a purchase of annuals may not be a great deal if the plant is nearing the end of its blooming season.
Nursery workers often are especially knowledgeable about what plants will work well in your garden. They can advise you regarding shade plants, hardy plants for your growing region, and in general about plant care. The facility may also sell gardening tools, planting materials like mulch or manure, and gardening books.
You can generally tell a good nursery from a bad by examining the plants. If the plants look well watered, relatively bug-free, and healthy, then it is likely the store is taking good care of the plants. If the plants do not look good, or seem under-watered, chances are they will not do well in your garden. A nursery may guarantee the health of their plans if one has doubts.
Visiting a well-stocked nursery can be fun for kids as well as adults. Some nurseries are so large they require quite a bit of walking to examine all the plants. A new trend is the online or catalog nursery. For those without the time to peruse one in person, just about any plant can be ordered on the Internet. Be sure such nurseries offer money-back guarantees if a plant arrives in poor condition, since there is no way to inspect the place prior to purchase.
@SimpleByte - Bonsai trees are beautiful. My daughter bought some from an online plant nursery, but I like to visit the local nursery in person to view the plants before purchasing them and to enjoy the colors and the beauty of all the flowers and shrubs on sale. At a local store, you can also get some live advice about the needs of the plants you're buying.
Another type of specialized plant nursery is a bonsai nursery. They sell both indoor and outdoor bonsai plants along with pots and other accessories for successfully growing and maintaining your bonsai tree.