Tips For Buying at an Auction

Just went to an auction of a big nursery and greenhouse that were going out of business. Trees of any size get really expensive, from $80/tree in a 15 or 20 gallon container.

Since landscaping is important for quality rentals, I had to go. You’ve got to buy when there’s a chance for low prices! With or without a landscape plan made up.

So here’s some tips:

  1. Preview if you can. That way you can decide on what you want to buy, and then check the regular retail prices. Auction fever made the early prices at this sale go HIGHER than retail!

  2. Decide how much to bid and how many BEFORE the sale. There is a ton of buying pressure when you’re there. The guy was yelling, “TALK TO ME, TALK TO ME!” and waving his microphone in bidders’ faces.

  3. Go early and follow the bidding even on stuff you don’t want. Soon you’ll see a pattern, and also who the big buyers (other nurseries, in this case) are. They may know values better than you do.

  4. If something is REALLY low, jump in anyways if you can use it. I got some trees for $5/each.

  5. Most important tip…stay till the bitter end. That’s when the good deals happen. I stayed 12 hours for this auction. At the end, the auctioneer is screaming, “All for 1 money! Take these four trees for 1 money!” Earlier it was times the money, times the price of 1 tree.

My feet were dead. I was buying a bottle of water each hour from the snack stand. Had a not great hamburger for lunch. Hot sun, and lots of dust. Endurance really counts in the auction game.

Spent several hundred $'s and got landscape xeriscape plants and trees for several properties. Most plants went for $1 a 5-gallon plant at the end. So I just said, “I’ll take those 80 plants there!” and tried to plan real fast in my head where to use them. I stuck to the stuff that I knew would live in our climate, no California Bougainvillea, no exotics.

So today it was hired guys with a trailer hauling all the stuff to the different houses. It’s going to look great. I recommend all auctions, you never know what you can get for an amazing price.


Great advice!!

Thanks for the post.

End of season sales are great as well. My wife and I went tree shopping a few weeks ago at Lowes end of summer sale and got three great trees for $18.00. We got a Live Oak (very common in Texas), a Bradford Pear (also very common), and a willow tree (not as common, but very fast growing and hearty).

For auctions, I mark the catalog with my top price and do not go so much as one penny over. That’s how you avoid auction fever.

For trees, the University of Idaho reforestation program sells a good selection of excellent healthy seedlings for $1.95 apiece (pine trees for .75). In a house where I am living, they go straight in the ground. When they are for rentals or rehabs, I pot them and raise them up a bit bigger.

Willows root faster than anything I’ve ever seen. Cut a branch and put it in a glass of water and it will root in just a few weeks.

I heard that a willow branch will help other cuttings take root, so I put willow in with my hardy hybiscus cuttings and now I have a whole bunch of potted willow seedings (and I’m still waiting on the hybiscus)

tatertot and christopher w,
Good tips.

Rooting hibiscus with willows sounds like the old rooting roses trick. You take an oat grain and stuff it into the open bottom stem of the rose, then put in water. Of course it’s then the oat that sprouts root tendrils, not the rose.

Maybe there’s a botanist amongst us who can tell if there is any merit to these old practices?


Beware of auctions. Auctions are designed to get the MOST for the items for sale, not to get you deals. You have to have a strategy. Great post.