Buying the right plant
Buying a plant for your garden is like buying any other consumer item, they can be well-made or of poor quality. And as with many other products, what you see is not always what you get. With potted plants in the garden centre this is particularly true. What you might see is a green, bushy plant, maybe even in glorious flower. Unfortunately, this is often the least important part when it comes to planting it out in the garden. The real keys to success are the roots, which are hidden beneath the potting mix in the pot.
Make sure you are buying a well-made plant.
- First check that the shoots, leaves and stems are free from disease or damage.
- Avoid plants that have been pruned heavily as this often indicates that they are over-mature and possibly 'leftovers' from the previous season. Heavy pruning may also result from prior damage being pruned away before sale.
- Choose plants for their shape and structure rather than size. Buying the tallest specimen is no bargain if it blows over or dies.
The answer lies in the pot
- It would be helpful to look at the roots to see if they are healthy and white, numerous and not growing in tight circles around the edge of the pot. This may not be possible, but there are ways to check.
- The plant should be firm in the pot. For most shrubs or trees it should be possible to give the plant a firm but gentle tug without it coming loose. This tells you that the plant has got a well-developed root system and has not just been potted up into the larger size pot. You don't want to pay for a pot of potting mix and few roots.
- The potting mix around the surface should be firm, but not too hard. For most plants, you should be able to poke your finger through the crust of the potting mix with little effort. This indicates that the plant is not root bound. Plants growing in pots which contain a mass of roots and no potting mix will be under severe stress and probably never recover from this setback.
Other points to look for
- Always do your homework or ask about plants with which you are not familiar. They may look splendid in a garden centre display, but may have been grown in a controlled climate glasshouse and may not be entirely appropriate for your climate. By all means experiment with plants from outside your climate zone, but understand it is an experiment and be prepared for failures.
- Never buy plants on special unless you are prepared for the worst. These plants are usually old stock that have received little, if any, recent care. It is a little like buying over-ripe tomatoes or grub-damaged apples; alright if you want to stew them!
- Plants in poor condition, or over-mature in the pot very rarely make a full recovery and often don't survive - not really a bargain when you look at it like that.
Labelling and information
- Like any other product, you will want to know as much as possible about your plant and how to care for it. Your plant must have a label which contains its name, growth habit, dimensions, flower colour (or other features) and cultural information. Preferably it will have a colour label if not in flower. You would be very unwise to buy a plant without a label - it is akin to buying a coffee machine without instructions, or a guarantee!
- Most garden centres carry a guarantee, so make sure your plant is covered. Keep your receipts, and if any problems emerge, immediately contact the store where you made the purchase.