After a year when garden clubs, Master Gardener groups, plant societies and other non-profit organizations canceled their annual plant sales because of COVID restrictions, the sales are back – possibly more of them than ever.

“I think the number is pretty similar to what it was two years ago, as far as fundraiser plant sales go,” said Pamela Hargest, a horticulture specialist with the Cumberland County office of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. “But I am seeing a lot more seedling sales being done by farms.”

Lynne Holland, of the Extension’s Lisbon office, has created a website that lists all the plant sales she knows about, including an interactive map with dates and locations. If your organization discovers its sale is not listed, get in touch – her contact information is on the website – and she will add it.

Several of this year’s sales are pre-order only; you’ve already missed the deadlines for one of those (the Knox-Lincoln Counties Soil and Water Conservation District plant sale). For these sales, buyers either email for a plant list or go online to find out what plants are for sale, send in their orders and pick up their plants at an assigned time. That method was the only one allowed under COVID guidelines last year, and it worked well. Other online sales this year are sponsored by the the Bowdoinham Public Library (order deadline date for that one is Tuesday, so hurry), Lincolnville Community Library, Midcoast Conservancy in Edgecomb, Maine Audubon in Falmouth and the Cumberland County Extension, also in Falmouth.

Eric Topper of Maine Audubon said that sales at last year’s online sale grew by about 25 percent from the previous year’s in-person sale – but added that the in-person sales have been growing about 25 percent a year previously, too. One difference, though, was that the online sale sold 5,300 plants to 550 different people in 84 different Maine zip codes, which he thinks was a much wider reach than the in-person sales.

When I spoke with him a couple of weeks ago, Maine Audubon already had 2,000 plants and was still receiving, potting up and germinating more plants for its sale, which begins June 1 and continues until all the plants are gone. He hasn’t completely ruled out an in-person event at Maine Audubon later this summer. The organization is waiting to see how things develop on several fronts.

In the past, in-person sales have often served as neighborhood gatherings, with baked goods as well as plants, and the chance for plant buyers to socialize with friends and neighbors. Sadly, those kinds of sales have changed or vanished in recent years. The Cape Elizabeth Garden Club, of which I am a member, halted its sales after the town became heavily infested with winter moth; it did so to avoid selling plants to people from other towns and possibly hastening the spread of the infestation.

The UMaine Extension offers guidelines online to help buyers avoid unwelcome pests in the plants they buy. The guidelines mention crazy worms, winter moth, European fire ants and black swallowwort as potential unwanted travelers.“Several Maine plant sales have been discontinued in recent years due to such concerns,” the website notes; clearly, our Cape Elizabeth Garden Club isn’t the only one.

Groups that have continued to hold plant sales are advised to use potted root cuttings rather than plant divisions to create plants, if possible. If divisions are used, the roots should first be rinsed and the plants inspected for roots of swallowwort and bindweed (two hard-to-eliminate pest plants) before the divisions are placed in pots with commercial potting soil.

Hargest said buyers should also carefully inspect the plants they are purchasing and ask the sale organizers how the plants were grown. She helps Master Gardeners organize the Cumberland County Extension’s pre-order sale, and said they have carefully followed the guidelines, as have other groups she knows of.

I’m glad that plant sales are back. I’ve already got four on my list to attend, and my list could still grow.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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