The One Estate Sale Buy I Never Say No To

published Oct 4, 2023
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Clothes in rack at yard sale
Credit: Johner Images / Getty Images

Most days, I need an alarm to wake me up — but on Saturdays, I’m practically bouncing out of bed because it’s difficult to stay asleep when bargains await. Whether it’s a yard sale, estate sale, or our local flea market, I often trade sleeping in on the weekend for the thrill of the hunt. It’s how I’ve slowly added eclectic decor to my home, but attending those sales has also had an unexpected side benefit: It has helped me grow my plant collection.

You can, of course, buy houseplants at lots of different places these days, from grocery stores to home centers. But even at budget stores, buying established plants in large pots can get pricey — and younger plants aren’t always equipped to thrive.

Credit: Jennifer Prince

At estate sales, though, you’ll find plants that have been receiving years of care under their previous owners, so they’ve had time to grow and develop. Even the largest of them are priced for less than you’d pay at a retail store, and the smallest frequently come with perfect-fit pots. That’s why estate sales — and, beyond that, yard sales, tag sales, and thrift stores — are one of my favorite sources for plants.

If you’re doubting your skills to keep an older plant alive, you should know that I wasn’t always a green thumb. I unfortunately killed quite a few tender plants before finding success with an heirloom cactus passed down to me from my late grandmother a few years ago. What started out as an unremarkable plant ended up flourishing under my care, and that experience taught me that it can sometimes be easier to work with an established plant rather than a young one.

Credit: Jennifer Prince

I found my first thrifted plant five years ago at an estate sale, where a gorgeous cobalt blue flower pot caught my attention. It contained a trailing plant, and at only $15, I decided it was a worthwhile purchase. I later learned it was a pothos; it’s now thriving on top of a cupboard, happily weaving trails along my ceiling beams.

Since then, my secondhand collection has grown to include more pothos, monstera, spider plants, aloe, and other varieties. These older plants seem more tolerant than their youthful counterparts and I’ve kept most of them happy.

Credit: Jennifer Prince

When I shop plants at estate sales, there are a few steps I take to better set myself up for success. Here’s what’s on my list.

  1. I check for pests by looking at the leaves and surveying the soil to inspect for small mites, aphids, and other critters. It’s important to keep my other plants safe from anything invasive.
  2. I check the roots by pulling the plant out of its pot. If I see more roots than soil, the plant is root-bound and I know I need to repot it so the roots have room to stretch.
  3. I add fresh soil to pots so plants have more nutrients at their disposal.
Credit: Jennifer Prince

Estate sale plants aren’t always thriving, and that can be part of the fun. I can’t resist the opportunity to care for something that seems unloved. One of my most curious plant additions was a $15 unidentified species I spotted at an estate sale two years ago. It wasn’t beautiful, but I felt sorry for the solid green, spiky plant because it had been relegated to a dim basement. I decided to take a chance, as it had already survived with little care. Over time, the new growth came in striated instead of solid. It turns out that the sad little plant I’d purchased was actually a barely recognizable snake plant that flourished and produced new, healthy shoots under my care.