Last-Chance Apocalypse Shopping: Garden Centers

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You could do a whole lot worse on the verge of the apocalypse than doing some last minute shopping at a local garden store. Whether it’s a mom and pop garden center or one at a Home Depot or Lowe’s, you’ll find a pretty impressive array of products that will go a long way toward helping you survive.

With zombies on the loose and the world as you once knew it collapsing around you, it’s a pretty sure thing that maintaining a green lawn will be near the bottom of your post-apocalypse To Do list. A much smarter strategy will be turning those lawns into food-producing machines.

In order to not waste your money or whatever barter currency you’re using, it’s important to know what will actually grow in your front yard, your backyard, the patio, balcony, and so on. Although, if you end up with more seedlings than you can plant, far more mulch than you can use — those will be highly desirable by your neighbors who know that growing their own food is one way to stay alive.

And, if you happen to have a green thumb, look at this article for all the ways you could use that skill to earn money. Or chickens. Or rounds of .22 ammo.

If you’re not sure exactly where you fall on the gardening spectrum, now is the perfect opportunity to take my gardening self-assessment to evaluate your current gardening skills and resources. This will definitely help you figure out what you need to stock up on during your apocalypse shopping trip to the garden center!

For this shopping trip, you might want to hook a trailer to the back of your vehicle and get ready to load it up!

Bags and bags of mulch & compost

Mulch and compost may be what helps your garden succeed. Even if you already have good soil, stock up on both of these. The mulch will help retain moisture around your plants, allowing you to conserve water, and protect against erosion and weeds. Compost worked into the top 6 inches of your soil, will replenish it with important nutrients.

Lightweight gardening pots

Grab lightweight plastic pots in all sizes. You’ll need smaller ones for nurturing seedlings and larger pots for patios and for setting in areas that get enough sun if your yard is shady.

Ask the garden center if they have any black plastic nursery pots that they are waiting to recycle. They will often give these away to save money. Recently, I was able to purchase 30-gallon pots for as little as $5 and use them a large container garden. Hose out the pots and rinse them with a weak bleach solution before re-using them for fresh planting.

Specific flower seeds

This isn’t the time to grow flowers just because they’re pretty. Instead, have a plan for planting flowers with a purpose, such as marigolds. Marigolds planted near vegetables will help deter certain damaging insects as well as nematodes in the soil. Plant lavender to deter deer and then to dry and use later for things like DIY lavender salves and tea.

Also plant flowers to attract pollinators, like zinnias, salvia, and asters and medicinal-use flowers like echinacea.


Buy both seedlings and seed packets and all varieties of herbs. Learn beforehand which herbs have medicinal uses by reading this book, Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar, and then make a list of the herbs you’ll need for your own family’s healthcare.

Also, stock up on common herbs that can be used for cooking. Consider planting sage, oregano, thyme, mint, and rosemary.

Fruit and nut trees

A healthy orchard of apple trees, peach trees, or pecan trees can furnish enough food for several households. Don’t pass up citrus trees and dwarf trees for the patio. These can often be found on discount at the end of spring and again at the end of fall.

Vegetable seedlings and seed packets

Load up the cart. That’s all you really need to know. When you’re finished with my shopping list here, you should have everything you need to successfully grow a vegetable garden. Of course, common sense plays a role here. Don’t put out your veggies in the middle of the winter, that sort of thing.

Seed starting kits

The good news about gardening is that you can start seeds indoors weeks and weeks before transplanting them outside. These kits will come with instructions if you need them. Just be sure to nurture these little babies as though your life depended on it because, with zombies and all, it literally does.

Gardening gloves, hats, and shoes

It’s extremely important to protect your hands, head, and feet whether you’re gardening or working outdoors on anything else. Gardening centers will have a good variety of gloves in different sizes and made from different materials. They usually carry floppy straw hats and possibly, muck boots and shoes.

Birdseed and feeders

Birds are an important part of the ecosystem. Huge bags of birdseed aren’t very expensive and during the winter months, especially, will help provide food when there are fewer and fewer natural resources for birds.

Hand tools

Always hand tools. Shears, trowels, a hand spade, they will all make your job much easier if they are good quality. If you’re not sure of the quality, then buy plenty of back-ups.

Log splitter

If you live in a wooded area, a log splitter could save your life by providing a much easier way to split firewood than a maul or an ax. You might be able to sell or barter bundles of firewood to get other supplies you and your family need.

Tools as weapons

Sooner or later, you may have to resort to hand-to-hand combat and these gardening tools will come in handy. Buy enough for a small army.

  • Pickaxe
  • Sledgehammers
  • Mallets
  • Axes
  • Shovels
  • Mauls
  • Pitchforks
  • Chipper Shredder — Yeah, I went there!

Garden hoses, nozzles, and wands

As long as there is running water, you’ll be able to keep your garden and trees watered and growing. However, the way garden hoses dry out and crack it would be a good idea to have a few extra stored inside and away from the heat.

Rain barrels

If you don’t already have large containers to use in a rain catchment system, then now is the time to buy at least 4 or 5 of these. Also, look for the supplies you’ll need to set up a full system, such as PVC pipe, a spigot, and hoses.

Soil amendments & fertilizer

Unless you’re lucky to already have wonderfully rich, loamy soil, you’re going to need to stock up on amendments. What you need to do now, though, is get your soil tested by your county’s extension office. That will give you a baseline for your soil and you’ll know what it needs.

Keep in mind that soil always needs nitrogen, so look for fertilizers high in nitrogen. Bags of perlite, lime, vermiculite, and sphagnum peat are also useful for aerating the soil.

Neem oil

This is a safe, non-toxic pesticide you should get to know. In your last-chance apocalypse shopping spree, grab at least a bottle or two of this.

Other pest control

In the apocalypse, I’m afraid that insects will move in to once again rule the world, and you should be prepared with plenty of pest control options. The problem is going to be killing evil pests like cockroaches and fleas while leaving the beneficial insects and birds alone.

Do stock up on various pesticides, but before using anything, carefully read the label and follow instructions.

Manual lawn mower

It’s doubtful we’ll have access to the full power grid for electric mowers and you’ll want to conserve whatever fuel you have. Therefore, it’s back to the stone age with a push mower. Your goal isn’t to groom the perfect lawn. Those days are long gone.

However, you do want to control weeds that might take over your garden beds and keeping weeds and grass mowed is a simple way to do that.

This is not a bad idea.

Drip hoses

With water at a premium, you need a way to keep your most important plants and trees watered without wasting even an ounce or two. Drip hoses can do that for you. Keep a timer handy so you don’t forget about the watering and waste even more water.

Sprinkler tubing

Plastic tubing will come in handy again and again, whether for siphoning gas or to use as a tourniquet or some other far-fetched scenario. The point is, it’s pretty cheap and has multiple uses. Do grab at least one package.

Watering cans

Along the same lines as the drip hose, an old-fashioned watering can will help you direct the right amount of water on the right plant without a lot of waste. And, since you know about how much water the can holds, you can add a few drops of liquid fertilizer according to package instructions.

PVC pipes

If you doubt that a good selection of PVC pipes has a place in your apocalypse shopping spree, then read this. You can build things with PVC pipe, use them to collect rainwater, and even repurpose them as improvised weapons for close contact battles.

Storage shed, outdoor storage bins

With everything you already have in your garage plus the huge amount of supplies you’re bringing home from the garden center, you’re going to need more storage space. Everything on this list needs to be protected from the elements, so either a kit to make a storage shed or one that is already constructed might be a very good purchase.

If you don’t have the room for a shed or money’s tight, then go for some of the heavy duty bins. Just make sure the lid fits very tightly.

Hydroponic gardening supplies

You may end up having to do all of your gardening indoors what with a zombie invasion and all. A hydroponic kit, complete with a lifetime supply of grow lights, is just what you’ll be needing.

You’ll be using liquid fertilizers, so before you rush to the cash register to check out, read the instructions on the hydroponic kit to make sure you have what you need to successfully grow tomatoes, cucumbers, or whatever.

Greenhouse kits

Lengthen your growing season by setting up a small greenhouse. Double check the package contents to make sure you are getting everything you need. You can purchase a kit or look online for a supplies list and make it yourself from lumber or PVC pipe.

Gardening books

Here’s where I would definitely invest some money. The last thing you need is to end up at home with your huge pile of garden center purchases, only to realize YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO NEXT! Look for books with information and instructions for gardening in your specific area.

These might be smaller self-published books without a lot of flashy photos but if the information they contain was written by an experienced gardener in your town, it will be far more helpful than a mass-produced gardening book written by a committee living a thousand miles away. Also try our article, 27 Tips from a Master Gardener for more ideas, and be sure to take the gardening self-assessment to help you understand where you are right now in your garden skills and resources.

If a garden center is the only store you can get to with hordes of zombies on their way and civilization collapsing, you’re in great luck! You’ll avoid the panicked masses at Costco and Kroger while getting set up with a long-term survival plan and everything you could possibly need to make it a success.

Coming next: O’Reilly Auto Parts

Don’t miss the other stores in my series:


7 thoughts on “Last-Chance Apocalypse Shopping: Garden Centers”

  1. Very good article. Fruit and nut trees; be aware of pests and weather. I have found to be a “best practice”, poultry netting, 3/4” opening, if not basket shaped with a bottom at least a cylinder shape buried below standard gopher habitation. Yes it rusts, but it can give 3-5 years gopher protection.
    Weather; Heat kills get those trees in the ground ASAP.
    Insects; I’ve got borers that attack fruit/ nut trees just above ground level. Neem oil works for me, but fearing a SHTF event I bought 2 1/2 gallons ($$$$) but I lost half my Crab Apples, and a 1/4 of my Apples before I tried Neem oil.
    Hand Tools; buy extra handles (that’s plural) , if they are fiberglass handles you will need epoxy, if they are wooden, there’s little bags with a small wooden wedge and possibly 1 or 2 small metal wedges. Learn now, at least watch, how to replace a handle. There are rubber slip-on handle protectors, for when your aiming at that splitting wedge and miss and instead the handle hits the wedge. Get some.
    Splitting wedges, different types, and be aware when using them, you will mushroom the head increasing the chance of flying metal specs, wear eye protection. And wedges will get “spit out” from tree rounds and tend to then find your shins. Double knee pants are good to wear when splitting firewood.
    Axes work best with speed behind it. Splitting mauls are heavy and depend on heft/ mass to split. Unless you have a metal handled splitting maul never wiggle the handle side to side, handles are not designed for that. They break.
    Flat Bastard Files (again plural), learn how to sharpen tools by hand, always wearing gloves, now while there’s YouTube. Lisa mentioned gloves, lots of gloves, try them on at the store, then buy a dozen. Per person.
    I would add digging bar(s) and post hole digger/ shovel for setting fence posts, and consider a T-Post driver. Hey you never know. Hoes. Plastic sheeting; There’s standard, heavy duty, and then there’s pond lining. It looks like there’s squareish for ponds and then there’s the by-the-foot roll for “streams”. It’s expensive, but it’s desined for outdoor ponds, so … I personally noticed, I’m using a plethora (kids might read this) of well water to water my raised vegetable beds. In a post “event “ world, could I line the bottom of my beds to capture the water runoff and reuse it? That and it’s some very heavy duty water repellent sheeting.
    Erosion control netting/ matting; there’s netting, made of hemp, designed for laying on the ground to help with erosion control. It’s maybe 4’ to 6’ wide, comes in varying lengths, is a nice dull brown color, could be used as camouflage netting.
    And as Lisa mentioned a chipper, ala “Fargo”, OK so she didn’t bring it up I did, but if you can chip, you get mulch, a lessened fire hazard, and while pile burning is a viable option, with pile burning there’s always a chance of escape. Either way on the chipper, regarding who or what your chipping, lime, lots of lime to keep down the smell of decomp. Works on human waste too. Or is “human waste” a redundant statement since I already talked about who you chip?
    It’s late, I’m leaving now. Veni Vidi Visa, I came, I saw, I shopped.

  2. Wow nice list. I am in the store all the time even though I grow organically there are indeed lots of things you can use to help get better yeild out of what your already doing. I can think of a ton of things to use a lawn motor engin for on the farm. And those rain barrels always come in handy.

    I could go on all day with it. Thank you nice one!!

  3. If you’re lucky enough to be able to keep livestock, the push mower with a few blades removed could help cut hay for winter storage…maybe? Thinking outside the box, lol.

  4. Come the apocalypse we won’t have the time or the inclination to mow a lawn. Why not fence it in and keep chickens on it? Wild birds don’t need bird seed, they can find their own food, so keep the bird seed and fatballs for the hens, (they can also eat most other pet food).
    In the UK most garden centres also sell solar lights, batteries and candles which will be useful. Leave the solar lights out during the day and bring them in at night.
    Barbecue equipment and charcoal would also be on my list.
    One of the larger garden centres near to me also sells camping equipment and another has a craft section, all with their own selection of goodies to choose from.
    Also on my list would be wellington boots and garden clogs. Anything which would save regular footwear would be useful as shoes are difficult to make at home once the stores run out.

  5. Lisa, I love your site. I have used diatomaceous earth to kill all kinds of bugs that have an exoskeleton. My brother lives in an apartment builing. He found bedbugs in his place. I bought a few bags of the diatomaceous earth from Lowes. He sprinkled it all over his apartment. Any bug that came in contact with it, died in minutes. Just thought I would let you know of what has worked for me in the past.

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