Homegrown Paleo - Choosing Quality Plants at the Nursery
Spring is in full swing and we (hopefully) have had our last frost. It is finally time to buy plants. Before you spend any of your hard earned money on plants from the nursery or local plants sales, make sure you are purchasing plants that are vigorous and healthy. There is nothing more depressing than buying the perfect plant for the perfect spot only to have it fail because of something you could have easily detected. Don’t know what you need to detect? No worries, read on for tips on choosing high quality plants.
Above Ground Considerations
Select plants that have lots of buds, but hardly any flowers. This is difficult for many of us, as we are looking for instant bursts of color in the garden. However, all plants will go through transplant shock when they are removed from the artificial world of container living and placed into the harsh realities of Montana’s lean soil, intense sunlight and brutal winds. Most flowering plants will respond to this shock by immediately dropping blooms and redirecting energy elsewhere. Save yourself the heartache, buy plants in bud not bloom.
Avoid spindly, leggy plants, and plants with yellow leaves (unless that is their natural color). Those tall and leggy plants were grown in poor light and will struggle all summer in your garden. Plants with yellow or pale colored leaves can be an indicator of poor plant nutrition and it is asking too much of them to thrive in the infertile soil of your yard.
If you are considering woody plants (trees and shrubs) make sure the branches are free of scars, breaks, deadwood or crossing branches. The branches should be strongly attached with wide angles, and some branches should be growing low on the trunk. Also make sure tree trunks have taper, meaning that the trunk diameter increases as it nears the soil line.
The final above ground inspection should be for insects and disease. Do not choose plants that are infected or infested. Take a good look underneath the leaf, and where the leaf attaches. Also avoid plants that have insects present or have chewed, mottled or dry and crispy leaves. Woody plants should be inspected for insect exit holes on the trunk and branches. You do not want to import a problem into your backyard.
Below Ground Considerations
Most people never consider looking at the root ball when purchasing plants. However, you would never purchase a car without looking under the hood right? Apply the same logic here. First look to see if roots are growing out of the bottom of the pot. Next, set the container on its side, give it a good thwack on the bottom and gently ease the plant out of the pot. You will be able to clearly see if the plant is pot-bound. If it is not pot-bound make sure there are no crooked, kinked, crossing or girdling roots. These deformed roots will never be efficient at water and nutrient uptake. Also notice if there are any black and slimy roots; these are dead and indicate the plant has a disease, or has been over-watered.
With a little extra time and effort you can be sure to select the healthiest and vigorous plants for your yard. Remember to introduce your newly purchased plants to your back yard before planting them. Most plants have been grown in a greenhouse and need an adjustment period to toughen up for our growing conditions. Read my Homegrown Paleo post on hardening off plants.
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