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Plant Shopping - Part 1

Plant Shopping - Part 1

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Plant Shopping - Before You Buy

Ah, planting is in the air and at times like this one's heart turns to a nursery. OK, to be honest, the early spring rush is over, the bare root plants left are a sorry mess and should have been potted up by the nurseries long ago. It is definitely too late for spring perennials to even dream of blooming this year, and the cool season annuals are a quick burnout in the soon to come summer heat.

But all is far from over. The summer annuals are all waiting to be bought and planted. A myriad of container plants are crying out to be put into your empty pots. And in today's world of container grown plants, almost anything can be bought...and almost any time. So let's look at buying a woody plant. (Herbaceous plants like your flowers we will deal with in another issue).

In reality, the best time to plant trees and shrubs is still spring for cold winter areas. The great flush of growth in spring can overcome many disadvantages and, no matter, if the plant will make it, spring is its time. Spring planting also lets the plant toughen up and harden off properly to cope with next winter. Even in warm areas, tropical or other tender plants avoid the challenge of winter with potential dieback by spring planting.

On the other hand, fall is the best shrub and tree planting time for warm areas like California or Florida. The smaller, but still significant growth burst of autumn helps your plant to establish and settle in to its new home for the growing season. In fall the plant will acclimate, root growth will still occur through the winter, and it is very ready for the spring rush. In other words, fall planting gives the plant an opportunity to recover from the shock of transplant to best take advantage of spring.

In all fairness, though, it is true that a container plant can be planted at virtually any time of the year. So if you really need a particular shrub, tree, or vine - don't hesitate. There is an advantage in buying flowering shrubs in bloom and that is the clarity of what you are getting. Besides the occasional fiasco of a mislabeled pot ( Yellow? Yellow??? It clearly says Pink!!), seeing gives you all the true nuance and subtlety of form and color that a description or even photo can never give.

Know What You Want

Simple as it sounds, this is critical in buying plants. Is there a specific plant you are looking for? Perhaps you want to accomplish a specific purpose, be it a shade tree, a screen, an accent or any other purpose. For this is a good idea to do some research first. One idea is to look around your area and see how others have dealt with situations like yours.

Keep in mind your climate, though a local nursery will usually stock plants right for your area. Sun or shade is, of course, important to note. In addition your exposure can make a difference. A wall facing the cool morning sun is a very different microclimate than a hot west-facing wall that gets the full blast of hot afternoon sun.

The exposure of a wall is the direction it faces. Imagine you are standing where the plant will go. If your left arm is the direction the sun rises and your right arm is the direction it sets, then you are facing south and your back is north.

Note how wet or dry the area is that you want to plant. Also important is if your soil is heavy clay or light sand. Does the soil drain well or do puddles form and stay there. Is it flat or on a slope?

Here is a quick checklist:

USDA (or Sunset) Zone:

Sun or Shade:


Wet or Dry:

Flat or Slope:

Soil Type (Clay or Sand):

Good or Poor Drainage:

Write down the answers to the above questions and bring it to the nursery. Armed with this information we can now make an appropriate selection of a plant that will do what we want to accomplish.

Next issue we will deal with what to look for in the nursery and how to pick out and buy a great plant.

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