As you elbow your way into the garden retailer this spring, there are some “tenants of garden shopping” that I recommend. These tips will go a long way in your efforts to produce great flowers, an abundant crop of fruits and veggies and, for the more ambitious, a terrific permanent landscape with good bones, as we say in the business.
- Good value does not always equal the lowest price. Plants are living things. Much like fresh fruit and vegetables, words like bruised, overripe and best before yesterday just don’t cut it, regardless of the price. A great looking plant is not potbound, is not leggy, does not have yellowing leaves or is necessarily in full bloom. It is young, with roots that fill only half of the container. It is stocky and always green, and not necessarily in full bloom.
- Labelling pays for itself. At this time of year, it is not always easy to get gardening advice from a sales person. That’s why accurate picture labels are valuable. A good label is printed in Canada, is appropriate for for the growing zone, has a picture and cultural details on it. Place the label next to the plant in your garden.
- Roots should not encircle the inside of the container. Young, white fibrous roots are ready to take off in your garden. The roots must make a home in your soil before the top of the plant can thrive. Turn a plant upside down while at the garden centre, gently remove it from the pot and inspect it. If the roots circle the inside wall of its container, put it back and choose a younger, perhaps less impressive looking specimen.
- Full blooms are not always a good. It takes energy for a plant to produce a bloom, which attracts pollinators (not buyers), and to reproduce. Garden performers have much more green growth than blooms. The power reserved in the plant’s roots is made available to push the blooms as the plant resides in your garden, not on the store shelf.
- Recycling. Many garden retailers take back your used pots and cell packs for recycling. Most municipal recycling programs do not accept used plastic plant containers. Retailers who provide this service deserve our consideration.
- Buy wet plants. The sign of a good retailer is one who maintains the plants they sell. Mass-merchant retailers often allow plants to dry out in the store. A plant that dries out excessively “hardens off,” reducing the vigour that it had when it left the green house. Avoid plants that are lightweight (dry) as they may collapse before you get them home.
- Look for blossom buds. If you want colour in your garden sooner rather than later, look for plants that are loaded with blooms that will open in a few days or a week. These plants will give you a great performance in your garden, not at the garden centre.
Finally, when you get your plant purchases home be sure to place them in a shaded side of your house until you get them into the ground. Water them as the surface of the soil in their container becomes dry, preferably with rain water from a rain barrel as it is nice and warm.
Prepare the planting holes well, firm the soil around the roots of each plant with some “umph” and water well, right after planting.
The performance of your new plants in your garden will now depend on regular watering when the soil becomes dry about one centimetre down, fertilizing with 20-20-20 every couple of weeks and keeping the weeds under control.
Mark Cullen appears on Canada AM every Wednesday morning at 8:40. He is the Lawn & Garden Expert for Home Hardware. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com