When and where is the sale?
It’s always on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Mother’s Day weekend. For 2013, that’s May 10, 11 and 12. It’s held in the Grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair.
How big is the sale?
The Grandstand is 66,000 square feet, plus we locate our shrubs, trees, roses and native plants outside the building in an additional 30,000 or so square feet. In 2011 we had over 2,300 different plant varieties, and estimate there are over 300,000 individual plant items for sale.
How much money does the sale raise?
The sale has raised more money each year. In 2011, it raised over $200,000.
What’s the money used for?
Friends School of Minnesota, a kindergarten through 8th grade Quaker school in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood. Friends School is committed to making sure it is financially accessible to any family, regardless of need.
Why don’t you have enough shopping carts for everyone?
We rent as many carts as we can get our hands on each year. Because the sale is just once a year, we do not own our own carts. We encourage everyone to bring their own wagon or other appropriate wheeled item.
Why is there a line to check out?
At some times, there is no line at all, and at many others, the checkout wait time is not more than 10 minutes. There are times where the number of people checking out goes up rapidly and causes a line. We are working on decreasing that likelihood.
Why do you separate adding up my order from paying for my order?
We have found that it is faster to separate the two processes. Therefore, each customer stops at a tallying table where the list that you’ve been keeping is added up, and then the customer moves to a second table to pay.
What credit cards or other types of payment do you accept?
We accept cash, check or credit cards — Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express.
Why is there a line to get in when the sale opens each day?
Because everyone wants the same thing at the same time. The line is usually gone (meaning there is no wait to get into the sale) by about 1:00 p.m. Friday, 11:00 Saturday, and noon on Sunday.
Why don’t you move somewhere larger?
The Grandstand is the largest building with a paved floor that also allows us to water the plants. We have considered using the second floor of the Grandstand, but because of shoppers’ needs for carts and wagons, we have not been able to figure out a way to make that work.
Are my plant purchases tax deductible?
No. Because you are buying the plants at a competitive local retail price (and sometimes even lower than that), your purchases are NOT tax deductible. However, if you round up the price of your purchase beyond the cost of your plants, that amount would be 100 percent deductible.
If you’re a nonprofit organization, why do you charge me sales tax?
The State requires us to charge sales tax because the sale is located at the State Fairgrounds.
I want to re-use my plant list from last year. How do I do that?
If you saved your list, you can return to it by logging in, or if you're already logged in, by clicking the Go to My Plant List button in the top right corner of the website. Your list will still contain the plants you added last year.
When viewing your list, you'll see a CLEAR LIST button at bottom right of the page. If you want to keep some of the plants but not others, you can remove each plant individually by clicking the red REMOVE circle on the right side of the plant list.
There are plants on my list that don't have prices or a catalog number. What's up with that?
Those are plants that we are not offering in this year's sale. You can remove them by clicking the red REMOVE circle on the right side of the plant list, or leave them on if you want to remember what you got in a past year.
Do you grow the plants yourselves?
No. We buy the plants wholesale, mostly from local growers, and sell them retail.
Where do you get the plants?
Our growers are small businesses, mostly located in eastern Minnesota or western Wisconsin. While some of our plants can be found in regular garden centers, many others are custom-grown for us.
Why don't you list USDA zone numbers for each plant?
You can find a full explanation here.
The plant I wanted was sold out on Friday evening. Why don’t you order enough?
Our goal is to have enough of each type of plant for everyone who wants one through Saturday night of the sale. Because we do have limited space, sometimes we try to accomplish that goal by restocking the plants before we open on Saturday morning, if the grower is near enough and willing to send us an additional truck that day.
However, we can only base the number we buy on how many were sold last year. That can lead to several possible problems:
- Sometimes a plant become much more popular suddenly, and sells out faster even if we ordered more of them.
- At other times, we don’t get all of the plants we ordered (or they don’t come in at all, see the question below about “crop failures”).
- When a plant is new to the sale, we don’t have any past sales to base the number on, and have to guess how popular the plant will be.
How do you know how many of each type of plant sells?
We do inventory on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. We also check for early sell-outs on Friday midday and other times as much as possible.
What does “crop failure” mean?
Basically, it means we did not receive the plants we ordered from the grower. This happens because:
- The seed did not germinate as expected (some plants are harder to germinate than others)
- The grower did not receive the seed or cuttings needed from the supplier
- The plants were not large enough to sell at our very early sale
- For shrubs and some perennials, they may be overwintered outdoors and may not have survived the winter
Why don’t you know about the crop failures earlier so you can warn us?
Some growers let us know ahead of time, while others are not able to do that, or only for some of their plants. We do begin posting lists of crop failures on the website on Monday morning before the sale, adding as many as we can up until Thursday. For the most up-to-date information on crop failures later in the sale Tuesday through Thursday, you might want to follow us on Twitter.
The crop failure rate has never been higher than 10% of the plant varieties we advertise in the catalog. In 2010, the rate was under 5%, although we know it seems higher when the plant you wanted isn’t available.
How do you decide which plants to sell?
Aside from plants we have sold in the past, we try to find out about new and interesting plants from reading the gardening press and talking to gardeners. We are always looking for suggestions of plants to carry. Email your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A plant I got from you died. Will you give me a refund or credit?
Unfortunately, no. Friends School Plant Sale cannot guarantee that any plant purchased from us will survive in the garden, although we are very interested in hearing if you have problems with a certain plant. The cost of giving that type of guarantee on perennials or shrubs, as is done at some local nurseries, is built into business’s overall price for plants (the price on all of their plants is higher to cover the cost).
Why should I volunteer?
Aside from helping out a nonprofit organization, the main benefit of volunteering is that you can shop at our pre-sale, which is held Thursday night before the sale opens. More on volunteering here.
If I sign up for a certain volunteer job, can you guarantee I will be doing that job?
If you sign up for a job during the sale itself (Thursday night, or any time Friday – Sunday), or afterward for cleanup, it’s pretty likely you’ll be doing the job you signed up for.
If you sign up to do setup, we can’t guarantee you’ll be doing the specific job you signed up for, because setup is pretty fluid. We try to keep the jobs on the published schedule, but it isn’t always possible. We adjust the schedule for the following year based on what happened the previous year, so we hope that each year’s schedule is more accurate.
I’m volunteering. Where should I come for my shift?
If you are volunteering any time from Monday afternoon before the sale up until Monday morning after the sale, come to the State Fair Grandstand and use the door at the east end of the building (the end toward the main gate on Snelling Avenue). If your shift is before or after that, it’s probably at Friends School, 1365 Englewood Avenue — but check your signup info to confirm these directions!