Every plant shopper wants the very top quality plant for the best price. You can get the best deals from wholesale nurseries and this is how to do it:
Items you will need
Tax ID number
an independent work ethic
shoes that can get muddy
A good plant reference book
You will need to have a business license. Nobody's trying to trick you! Most states love to audit business wholesalers and that's why the wholesaler keeps very strict records about their customers. They keep records (mostly on taxes) by using your tax identification number.
If you're already shopping at a place that guarantees wholesale prices, sorry sucker but now you've been tricked. True wholesalers have way better deals.
So step 1: GET A BUSINESS LICENCE, you need the tax ID number. It's not unusual for hobby gardeners to have a business license without a business. They pay the small annual fee just to be able to get the plant bargains from wholesalers.
Lace up your waterproof boots, jump in your truck and head out to the nursery.
Stop in at the office and get your new retailers account set up. The wholesale folks will ask for you tax ID number, you business name (even if it's made up), the address, and a list of names for anyone that is allowed to shop from your business account.
If this is for personal use, pay the tax now when you purchase. Most businesses opt to not pay the tax, but they will have to pay the sales tax later. It's easier for a business to keep tax records on yearly basis then by each receipt. You have to pay tax; it's one of the only 2 sure things about life.
Ask about the general layout of the nursery: The big tree section, greenhouses, off limits areas, and any special hidden corners that you should know about. Ask for a map, pricing sheet, and purchasing instructions.
Most wholesalers (at least the cool ones) let you drive your truck around the lot so you can stop-and-shop. Then, when you've made your selections, drive up to the office so someone can take inventory and ring you up.
Drive around! This is very hands on. You will not find helpful employees ready to help answer questions or offer suggestions. This is wholesale and helpful employees are a luxury reserved for those people who pay full retail. You are on your own with the one exception! Really (and I mean extremely) heavy plants, someone will bring a forklift around and help you load your truck.
Be considerate of other contractors and park on the side of the road so that other vehicles can move around you.
These big nurseries that are not open to the general public also lack fancy walkways and some basic safeties. Be prepared to step into some squishy mud. It's fun, so make the most of it and watch your step. Wholesalers don't operate under the same legal rules as retailers, so step carefully. Trip hazards, holes, low overhangs, and slippery surfaces are everywhere. You assume the risk when you shop there.
When you find plants that you want to purchase, be aware that they may not have the same quality standards of your local retailer. Pull any weed and leave them behind (you don't want them in your garden or your clients). Check the root ball and condition of the plant, since wholesalers don't offer returns or guarantees. Make sure you've picked a quality plant before you buy it.
The price is probably not on the plant but you can find it on your pricing sheet. Some plants might not even be tagged, so hopefully you know a little about horticulture. Most will at least have the botanical name plainly listed on the tag, but no plant information. That's why you brought a book so you can look up the plant and find out more about its size and habitat.
After you've loaded up the truck, you're ready to be checked out at the office. The parking can seem very unorganized because it's unmarked, just try to park close while allowing other vehicles access.
That's it! The secrets have been revealed.
Some wholesale nurseries will pick a weekend during the slow season when the plant selection is dwindling and open up shopping for the general public. This is usually in the high summer when true gardeners have finished their projects for the season. The selection and bargains will be better in the fall at big retail stores. Be nice to the staff, they might tell you some good insider tips. I always have the nurseries phone number programed into my cell for plants that aren't listed on the price sheet. Then I can make a quick call to the office for the price. Plants are sold by size: 4 inch, 1-25 gallon, or by the foot (4' balled and burlap aka B&B).
Asking too many questions will make enemies. Bring your own twine, flagging, tarps, and bungees. Wholesalers don't have any of that stuff.