Plants on tables, a few people checking them over

Sale-related questions

When and where is the sale?
It’s usually on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Mother’s Day weekend and is held in the Grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair (1755 Dan Patch Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108). For 2020, that has been made impossible by COVID-19. Read our new COVID-specific FAQ for up-to-the-minute information on what's happening this spring!

How big is the sale?
The Grandstand is 66,000 square feet, plus we locate our shrubs, trees, roses, fruit, and native plants outside the building in an additional 40,000 or so square feet. We'll have more than 2,500 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 2019, it netted about $400,000.

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.

Where can I get a gift certificate?
They're for sale on the Friends School of Minnesota website. (The last date for ordering is the Friday before the plant sale week.)

Do you have a list of restaurants nearby?
Yes, here is a map (pdf).

Why is there a wait to get in when the sale opens each day?
Because everyone wants the same thing at the same time. A line develops at the Wristband Booth before it opens in the morning, but is gone about 30 minutes after the booth opens. Once you have your wristband, there is a wait to enter the Grandstand, but you are free to visit the Garden Fair, have a meal at a nearby restaurant, or sit down with the catalog and make your shopping list. There is usually very little waiting to get into the sale by about 3:00 p.m. Friday (sometimes earlier), 1:00 p.m. Saturday, and 11:30 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.

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 5 or 10 minutes. There are times where the number of people checking out goes up rapidly and causes a line. We work constantly to decrease 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, Apple Pay, and all major credit cards — Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express.

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 of Minnesota requires us to charge sales tax because the sale is located at the State Fairgrounds.

Can I bring my dog into the sale?

No, State Fair policy prohibits dogs inside their buildings, unless it is a trained and qualified service animal as required under ADA.

Website-related questions

I want to re-use my plant list on the website 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.

I DON'T want to re-use my list... how do I get rid of the plants on it?
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 button 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. They should also appear to be crossed out. 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.

When I search for plants using their catalog numbers, I get a result that's the wrong plant.
Try dumping the cache in your brower. Your computer is remembering the numbers from last year (because of those darned cookies).

Three students with succulent plants


Plant-related questions

Do you grow the plants yourselves?
No. We buy the plants wholesale — 80 percent of them from local growers — and sell them retail.

Do your growers use neonicotinoid pesticides?
We have done everything we can to make sure they DON'T use neonics. But read the full article on our efforts to eliminate neonics.

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 located close enough and is willing to send us a Saturday truck.

However, we can only base the number we buy on how many plants were sold last year. That can lead to several possible problems:

  • Sometimes a plant becomes much more popular suddenly, and sells out faster even if we ordered more.
  • 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 order quantity 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 throughout Friday and Saturday.

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 seeds or cuttings needed from their supplier (their supplier had a crop failure)
  • The plants were not large enough to sell at our very early sale
  • Some shrubs and perennials, which often are over-wintered outdoors, 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 updating the website for crop failures on Monday morning before the sale, adding as many as we can until the sale opens on Friday. For the most up-to-date information on crop failures the week before the sale, 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. Since 2014, the rate has been under 5%, although we know it seems higher when the plant you wanted isn’t available. We feel the same way when it's a plant we wanted to buy.

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 info@friendsschoolplantsale.com.

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 that business’s overall price for plants (the price on all of their plants is higher to cover the cost).

What do you do with leftover plants?
After we do inventory and set aside any plants we want to send back to growers to grow larger for next year, all remaining plants are turned over to the Minnesota Green program of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society. If you are from a community garden or public garden, you may be able to join. Contact Tom McKusick, TMcKusick@northerngardener.org.



Volunteer hanging plant signs

Volunteer-related questions

Why should I volunteer?
Aside from helping to support a terrific school, the main benefit of volunteering is that you can shop at our volunteer pre-sale, which is held Thursday night before the sale opens. It's a fairly relaxed shopping experience and everything is in stock (except crop failures, of course). Volunteers also receive a 50% off coupon to use at the Sunday discount sale (the public gets one-third off). More on volunteering here.

How does the volunteer-only sale work?
On Thursday evening before the sale starts, volunteers are welcome to shop from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. Volunteers who have already done their four-hour shift get an admission ticket at the end of their shift, while volunteers who have signed up to work after the pre-sale get a postcard by mail about a week before the sale.

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 want to sign up for the Master Gardener table.
Great! All we ask is that you be an official Master Gardener through your county's Extension program. Ramsey County Master Gardeners may include the Plant Sale in their hours of volunteering; Master Gardeners from other counties cannot.

I’m volunteering. Where should I come for my shift?
If you are volunteering any time from Monday 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!

I’m volunteering. Where do I park on the State Fairgrounds?
During setup and final cleanup (Monday–Thursday noon, Sunday evening after the sale, and Monday after the sale), you can usually find a spot on the streets surrounding the Grandstand. Be sure to avoid handicapped parking spots unless appropriate for you, and please don't block any curb cuts/wheelchair ramps. We also have a volunteer parking lot that has lots of space for volunteers on the sale days when it's hard to park on the streets — a link with directions will be included in the reminder email you'll get about a week before your shift.