4 things to know about the first Desert Botanical Garden Plant Sale in a year

“People are going to be extra anxious to come see what we have.”

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PHOENIX (Desert Botanical Garden) – Mark your calendars and set a reminder on your cellphone for the much-anticipated Fall Plant Sale at Desert Botanical Garden. This is your opportunity to level up your Arizona landscaping and garden.

Months of work

What has become an extremely popular semiannual event has its roots in the Unusual Plant Sale of Unusual Plants in 1976. It was the Garden’s first plant sale, and it took more than a year to make it happen. The idea was to let people buy unusual plants that could thrive in an Arizona garden. Organizers focused on cacti, succulents, trees, shrubs, and other desert plants that were hard to find. Some might have been available by special order through a top-grade nursery, but others were not for sale anywhere in the entire state.

“I’ve seen some photos from it, where the plants were grown in coffee cans,” said Kenny Zelov, the assistant director for plant sales and production.

The Desert Botanical Garden's semiannual plant sale has come a long way from its humble...
The Desert Botanical Garden's semiannual plant sale has come a long way from its humble beginning in 1976.(DBG.org)

The modest event started with a member’s day on a Friday. When it opened to the public the next morning, there was a line of people. The Unusual Plant Sale of Unusual Plants was a hit and has continued to flourish over the decades.

“We’ve come a long way,” Zelov said. “It’s become a massive, massive sale.” This year marks his 23rd Plant Sale, so he has had a front-row seat to the spectacular evolution of the popular event.

The Unusual Plant Sale of Unusual Plants was small compared to today’s sales, which take months of prep work and feature more than 30,000 plants. The goal, however, is the same.

Your dream Arizona landscape: Everything you could want in one place

There are four things that make the Garden Plant Sale unique.

The first three are about the plants.

1. The Plant Sale is the best place to find unusual or uncommon plants.

2. The highly curated collection specializes in plants that will thrive in Arizona’s often harsh conditions. While there’s an emphasis on cactus and succulents, you’ll also find agaves, aloes, trees, shrubs, and ground cover.

“It’s not run-of-the-mill stuff. It’s a really nice mix of plants,” Zelov said. “Having these things together in one spot is unique. It’s as broad a mix as we’ve ever had. The variety will be really impressive.”

3. The third thing that makes the Plant Sale stand out from others is relatively new -- Garden Signature plants. These are grown from seeds or cuttings from plants in the Garden.

Garden Signature plants like these - Aloe dichotoma, Aloe ramossisima, and Bursera fagaroides -...
Garden Signature plants like these - Aloe dichotoma, Aloe ramossisima, and Bursera fagaroides - are unique Garden-grown plants that are from Desert Botanical Garden seeds and cuttings. All of these items will have the orange plant signs. (See next photo)(Desert Botanical Garden)

“These are actually plants that you can trace back to Garden plants,” Zelov explained. “It might be a cactus, or it might be an aloe, or maybe something that we’ve propagated from Garden material. These are unique. It’s kind of like owning a little piece of the Garden.”

4. Finally, we have to talk about the expert staff at the Garden and their knowledgeable volunteers. They’ll be there all weekend to answer any questions you might have and help you with your buying decisions.

Desert Botanical Garden experts - both staff and volunteers - will be on hand to help you.
Desert Botanical Garden experts - both staff and volunteers - will be on hand to help you.(Desert Botanical Garden)

“We have people who work in the Garden every day with these plants and have the expertise on how to grow them and where to grow them,” Zelov said. “You’re going to get the right information.”

In addition to the expert advice available for the asking, each plant has an information sign next to it. Zelov says it’s a good idea to snap a picture of that for each plant you buy so that you have its watering and exposure needs.

Each plant will be marked with a sign like this, noting important information. Be sure to snap...
Each plant will be marked with a sign like this, noting important information. Be sure to snap a picture!(Desert Botanical Garden)

Also new this year

Zelov says there are some especially exciting additions this year.

The first is the Herb and Veggie Tent, where you’ll find everything you need for your Arizona garden.

Second is a houseplants section, so the inside of your home can be as fabulous as the outside.

The third is the Garden Tool Shed. “We will have bagged soil available at the sale, and, for the first time, we will have a tent with curated gardening tools, supplies, and fertilizers available,” Zelov said.

Not sure how to get the look you want for your landscape?

The Garden has you covered with complimentary videos and resources, thanks to Desert Landscape School. At DesertLandscapeSchool.org, you’ll find Garden Growing Guides to help you learn how to care for your new plants, as well as the best time to plant. The site also has how-to videos and micro-courses. The Desert Landscape School’s featured courses let you mine the knowledge of the Garden’s horticulture experts at your convenience and at your pace. The micro classes are free to everyone, but you will need to create an account.

Desert Landscape School also has in-depth courses and a certificate program. Prices vary depending on the course; Garden membership gives you a discount.

Come prepared

Zelov suggests you do a little planning ahead of the Plant Sale. It’s best if you have an idea of where you’re going to plant your purchases. What kind of exposure does it have? Half sun? Full sun? Morning sun? Afternoon sun?

“I always start with that,” Zelov said. “These things are really important to know so that [you’re] making a good choice. Take advantage of our knowledge.”

Snap a few pictures of your yard to show the horticulturists and volunteers what you’re working with. That will help them help you.

Also, if you have questions about a specific plant you have or want to find, a photo is better than any description you could give.

The highly curated collection specializes in plants that will thrive in Arizona’s often harsh...
The highly curated collection specializes in plants that will thrive in Arizona’s often harsh conditions. (Desert Botanical Garden)

Getting there: What you need to know about reservations and parking

The most important thing you need to know is entry to the Plant Sale is timed in half-hour increments; admission is free but reservations are required. There are more than 6,000 slots over the four days. The first day – Thursday, Oct. 20 – is just for members. They also receive a 10% discount on their purchases. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are open to everyone.

The timed admission is set up to manage the crowd. It gives shoppers a bit of breathing room and allows the staff and volunteers to spend quality time connecting with people.

“We’ve found that all of our days tend to fill up,” Zelov said.

The bottom line is you should make your reservation sooner rather than later. (Reservations are open now.)

Parking is limited at the Garden, and during the Fall Plant Sale, the lot will fill up quickly. You might want to consider carpooling with phytophile friends or making a day of it with your gardening group. Valley Metro also is an option. You’ll want Route 56. If neither one of those will work for you, Desert Botanical Garden has made special arrangements with Lyft. Use the code DBG to save 10% on your ride.

An Arizona tradition

The Desert Botanical Garden’s spring and fall plant sales are an Arizona tradition like no other and repeat visitors are common.

“People have been coming year after year after year,” Zelov said.

While the sale is normally a semiannual thing, the Garden did not host a spring event this year because of the Chihuly in the Desert exhibit. They wanted to be sure both the exhibit and the sale got the attention they deserved.

“I think people are going to be extra anxious to come see what we have,” Zelov said with a laugh.

And with all of the new additions, this year’s Plant Sale is sure to be one the best in its 46-year history.

Fall Plant Sale: Oct. 20-23, 2022
Fall Plant Sale: Oct. 20-23, 2022(Desert Botanical Garden)

Desert Botanical Garden | 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix