Buying Plants – Essential Plant Buying Guide

Buying the Best Plants

When you start gardening and you choose quite young, vigorous but healthy plants, then you will soon get great results and be on your way to success in the garden.

Knowing how to select the best quality means that you won’t be wasting your money on weak plants, and it also avoids the risk of spreading plant diseases and pests.

It is however, sometimes difficult to imagine exactly how gardeners managed before there were nurseries and garden centres. Nevertheless, they are far from being the only source of purchasing plants and you may do just as well — indeed, if not better — to look elsewhere. There are, for example, many specialized and general nurseries, most of which will sell plants directly to the public on site as well as online, by mail order. Large department stores and supermarkets often sell plants, too. You should always put quality before attempting to save money, and try to make sure that the plants you buy are very clearly labelled, to ensure you know exactly what they are. Even when your plant stock is obtained through a network of gardening friends, you should still try to be choosy about the plants you accept and keep.


Buying Plants – Bedding Plants

buy shrubs Since annual plants complete their life cycle in only one year, and biennials in two years, they can easily be propagated from seed. However, there are good reasons for buying young plants.

One seed packet can contain a large quantity of seeds, and you may only need a few plants for window-boxes or grow-bags; alternatively, you may just want a few plants of a new line of vegetables. Or the new plants you want may be half-hardy — such as petunias, marigolds, tomatoes or tobacco plants — and these will need protection from frost as young seedlings. It is a pretty easy short cut to let the nursery or garden centre contend with the delicate and fragile early stages of a plant’s life, and you can just buy your plant stock when it is ready for planting in the garden.

Space is another deciding factor, since biennials, such as wallflowers and sweet Williams, take two years to produce any flowers and they need to be sown outdoors in late spring the year before flowering. For the smaller garden at least, it makes sense to fill that space with other plants and buy biennials that are already growing in the autumn to flower the following year.


Buying Plants – Strips and Small Pots

The most common containers in which small bedding plants are bought, are polystyrene strips or trays. When buying plants, look at the complete appearance of the plant, and in particular check its leaves, soil and flowers (if any).

Plants should be compact and sturdy. Uneven, lanky growth is a sign of badly lit and perhaps overheated conditions, or of a plant that has outgrown its original growing container as well as its compost. No matter how good the conditions are that you give the plant in later life, it will likely never recover completely.

If the plants are grown in strips, they should be fairly uniform in size. Where seeds have been distributed unevenly, you may find one or two robust specimens and many straggly ones which have been defeated by the competition.

Check that the leaves are a good healthy colour and that there is evidence of strong growth coming on. Yellowing and discoloured leaves or, worse still, the presence of pests, are a sign of disease, inadequate food or water and general neglect. Remember to look at the undersides, too.

Test that the compost is moist. Plants allowed to dry out suffer checks to growth that they never make up. Make sure that plants growing in polystyrene strips have not outgrown their container (with roots growing right through the polystyrene) and avoid specimens with roots growing through the bottoms of pots and trays, as these have been in their containers too long.

Ornamentals in full flower have almost certainly exhausted the nutrients in their compost. In the case of plants growing in individual containers, a few open flowers are not serious, but avoid plants with dead flowerheads or any where it is obvious that dead heads have been removed.


Buying Plants – Bulbs and Corms

Bulbs and corms are available at different times of the year, according to when they flower. Most benefit from early planting, so the sooner you buy supplies after they come in, the better.

Some corms and tubers, like those of cyclamen and winter aconites, are naturally hard and woody. But most dry bulbs should be plump and firm and show no sign of grey or blackish moulds, which indicate pest damage or fungal attack.

Others — lilies, for example — do not settle down well if the bulbs are allowed to dry out when they are lifted. They are therefore often kept in damp compost. Look for fleshy bulbs that show no sign of shrivelling. Take extra care to buy lilies from a reliable nursery or supplier as virus diseases are a major problem and difficult to detect in lily bulbs.

A few bulbs, most commonly snowdrops, are sometimes sold immediately after flowering, with the leaves still attached. They settle more quickly if bought and planted ‘in the green’, rather than as dry bulbs later in the season.


Buying Plants – Container Plants

Shrubs, roses and conifers are often sold in plastic pots or flexible plastic sleeves. This allows much greater freedom with planting times, particularly for trees and shrubs — in the past, the general pattern was to plant deciduous specimens in autumn and evergreens in spring.

Look for young stock of well balanced growth. Large, older shrubs are often slow to establish and are quickly overtaken by younger, much more vigorous ones. Check that grafted plants (where the stem or bud of one plant is united to the root of another) have a sound join, and that leaves, branches and roots are healthy. The join should not be so high — above 30cm (12in) — that a strong wind could snap off the new stem, nor so low that suckers grow from the rootstock.

Large bedding plants and perennials — such as delphiniums, dicentras and hostas — are also good container buys, saving several years of waiting. Perennials are slow to mature if raised from seed, which is frustrating when you are longing for the yearly display of beautiful flowers and foliage. Some perennials, too, need to be reared from cuttings or by division — again, a slow process best left to the nursery if you are after instant effects.

If you are buying container plants in full growth, select ones that are well proportioned and vigorous, with no straggly or wilting stems. The foliage should show no sign of disease or pest infection — black spot is a particular problem with roses.

Some weed growth on the surface of the compost is a good sign —an indication that the plant has not simply been dug out of the ground and dropped into a container shortly before sale. (Plants loose in pots are another give away that they have only recently been lifted from open ground.) Strong weed growth means, however, that the plant has had to fight for water and nutrients.

The plant should have a strong root system, growing in moist compost, but discard any specimens with thick roots escaping through the base of the container or with matted roots at the surface. In the case of hardy perennials bought in spring and autumn, you should be able to see healthy growth buds.


Buying Plants – Balled-Root Plants

Evergreen trees and a variety of shrubs are often sold in balled-root form — when they are lifted from the ground the soil around the roots is retained and held by a wrapping of sacking.

Choose well-proportioned specimens with a good framework of stems and healthy foliage. Feel through the sacking to make sure that no roots have developed around the ball, indicating that the plant has been balled for too long. Discard any stock with the ball broken, as this probably means that the soil has been allowed to dry out.


Buying Plants – Bare-Root Plants

Many deciduous shrubs, roses and biennials, such as sweet Williams and wallflowers, are sold as bare-root plants. These are lifted in the autumn or during the winter months for planting before growth begins again.

As well as being sold through nurseries and garden centres, bare-root plants are also specially packaged for supermarkets and department stores in a box or polythene bag, with moist compost around the roots. The packaging often obscures the condition of the plant so that it is difficult to tell whether the shop’s central heating has caused drying out, shrivelling or premature development. As a general rule, therefore, buy stocks as soon after they become available as possible.

Buying plants online, such as bare-root stock, which would be delivered through the mail, should be moist but not soggy when opened. The plants should show no bruising of roots, stems and leaves. Reputable nurseries will usually replace plants that have arrived in a damaged or unhealthy condition.

All plants should be completely dormant when bought, showing no premature growth of rootlets and no sign of leaf buds opening. But they must have sturdy, well ripened stems (at least two in the case of roses), and an evenly developed, fibrous root system, showing no sign of damage from pests or distortion by disease.


22. November 2010 by admin
Categories: Bedding Plants, Bulbs and Corms, Container Gardening, Plants | Tags: , | Comments Off on Buying Plants – Essential Plant Buying Guide


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