2011-06-09 / News

The secrets to buying plants

The Island Garden
By Roger Marshall

When you go to a garden store to buy plants, do you pick up the first plant you see? Do you wander the aisles looking for the perfect specimen? Or do you decide that you want a rhododendron, for example, and pick the biggest bush?

If you do any of the above, you are probably cheating yourself.

Before you buy a new plant, decide where you are going to put it. Think about what the plant will look in the future. In your mind’s eye, picture what the plant will look like in a few years. Will it grow over nearby plants? Will it need constant watering or mulching? Will it need pruning regularly? Can it take shade or bright sunshine?

Typically plants on the south side of a home need to stand up to higher temperatures than do plants on the east or west sides. Plants on the north side of a home might grow tall and leggy as they strain to reach sunlight.

Having decided on the right plant for the space, go online or to the library and check the plant’s characteristics and types. For example, you might decide that you want to plant rhododendrons on the east and west side of your home. If you plant the large leaf types, they will usually grow tall. I’ve seen them 25 feet high with stems thicker than a man’s wrist. But if don’t want tall plants you might want to look at small leaf P.J.M. rhododendrons that only grow 5- to 6-feet tall and can be pruned carefully to keep them below window height.

The first step when going into any plant store is to get an overall impression of the place. If the plants are wilted, the chances are that they have not been watered that day. For many plants, that’s not a problem, but for some plants it leads to disease. For example, a tomato plant that has been deprived of water during its growth cycle is far more likely to get blossom-end rot on the tomatoes than one that has been fed regularly.

Next, look to see how well plants are shaded. If there is a lot of shade in the store, the leaves might burn when you expose them to full sun. To avoid burning leaves, acclimate your plants to full sunshine gradually by setting them outside on a cloudy day and gradually increasing the amount of sun. If you overdo it and the plant leaves burn, they’ll usually just drop off. In most cases the plant will grow new leaves, but its growth cycle will be set back several weeks.

Now look at the plants you want to buy. Are they wilted? Do they have insects? Do you have a full six or four pack? Are they labeled properly?

Check the roots. If the roots are growing out of the bottom of the pot, it is a good indication that the plant may be pot bound. Knock the plant out of the pot. If the roots wind around inside the pot, the plant has been in the pot for too long and you will need to untangle the roots when you put the plant in the ground.

When you have bought your plants, bring them home and set them in the location where you want to plant them. Water them well and then turn the plants until you have the best side facing your viewing angle. Only then should you plant.

First dig your hole. It should be approximately twice the size of the pot. Knock the plant out of the pot or unwrap the burlap and set the plant in the hole at the same height as it is in the pot. Tamp the soil down around the plant using your foot. Tamping the soil does two things: It helps stabilize the plant and helps to compact loose soil around its roots. Water the plant and mulch around it to keep moisture levels up. You may need to water the plant daily until it is established.

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