Monday, April 4, 2011

Choosing Healthy Plants at the Garden Center by Carol King

Garden centers and big box stores are starting to be filled with tempting plants for your garden. How do you choose the healthiest plants; plants that will be successful in your landscape? Here are four steps to help you do just that!

1. Inspect the leaves.  Look for foliage that isn’t discolored, spotted, dried out, wilting or curling.  Spots can mean insect damage or  viral or fungal diseases. Curling, crispy or brown leaves can mean  drought stress or disease or insect damage.    Wilting plants indicate either too much watering or not enough.  Discolored foliage can mean that the plant hasn’t been receiving proper nutrition.  Check the back of the leaves also.  Don’t purchase if there is white fuzzy fungus or rust colored spots on the back.

2. Look for insects. Aphids, scales, white flies, mites and other insect pests can affect the health of your plants.  Small green or whitish bugs covering the stems means the plant is infested with aphids or scales.  “Spider” webs with brown or black dust spots means spider mites.

3. Check out the root system. Tip it out of the container .  Be careful and don’t damage the plant.    The whole root ball (the roots and soil that are contained in the container) should come out together.  If half the soil is soggy, wet and still in the container, the plant hasn’t fully established its root system.  If all of the soil came out with the plant then check to see if the roots are healthy. Healthy roots should be white to pale tan and clean looking.  If the roots are brown, grey, black, or slimy then the roots are unhealthy.

4. Choose the plant with the most branches and the most buds, not the one with the most flowers.    Plants that are just starting to bloom will establish new roots easier than plants that are older. If there aren’t any plants without blooms, cut the blooms off when you transplant.  This might seem wrong, dear gardener,  but it will actually cause the plant to put more energy into growing roots, thus becoming a healthier plant.  If you just can’t bear to cut off the blooms, at least deadhead the old blooms off as they age.

Following these few tips will help you choose the most healthy, successful plants for your garden.