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Plant Shopping - Part 3

Plant Shopping - Part 3

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Plant Shopping – Color

Walk into a nursery and the first thing you see is color. Flowers everywhere - a blooming display that is guaranteed to bring a smile. There is also a very strong desire to bring everything home and turn our yard into a spectacular display. Controlling this tendency is critical for a successful flower garden. Nevertheless, an awesome garden display can be yours, and quite easily.

Know Before You Go

As we said previously, a shopping list is essential. This ensures that, at least, you will accomplish what you set out to do. Perhaps there are particular plants you have in mind? Write it down. Note how many you want and what size, color, form (meaning upright or trailing or dwarf, etc). All this streamlines your shopping trip and focuses your time.

Perhaps there is a particular area you want to fill? If so, use our handy checklist to be sure what you get will thrive there:

Your USDA (or Sunset) Zone:

Sun or Shade:


Wet or Dry:

Flat or Slope:

Soil Type (Clay or Sand):

Good or Poor Drainage:

If you are not sure what this is about, for example "Exposure", see Plant Shopping - Part 1.

You should add also the size of the area, and calculate how many plants you will need. Obviously, the closer they are planted, the more you will need.

For example: Planted a foot apart, you will need 10 plants for 10 feet. If the bed is 2 ft deep, you will need 20 plants.

Another example: Planted 8 inches apart you will need 15 plants for 10 feet. A 2 foot deep bed (24 inches) is 3 plants deep, so 3 x 15 = 45 plants.

At 6 inches apart it takes 20 plants for the 10 feet and 4 plants deep for a 2 ft bed: 20 x 4 = 80 plants.

You get the idea; the closer you plant, the more plants you need. And the with closeness, the quantity of plants goes up dramatically. Try to work all this out ahead of time. It is much easier pulling out your list that says 80 dwarf marigolds than trying to figure it out on the spot.

Also, there is a tendency to just not believe how many plants it takes to fill a bed if planted close. This is definitely a case for planting larger growing varieties!

Include containers, planters, or pots you want to fill with color. Write the size and number of pots.

OK, with list in hand we are ready to go shopping.


The nursery has dazzling displays. Colors, forms, sizes and varieties in such profusion that it can be a bit intimidating. A few rules of discipline are in order.

First is the sinking awareness that "one of each" is just not practical. If you have a spot for a "test garden", then OK, try one of this and one of that, but otherwise you are in for a big mess. This kind of planting makes a hodge podge of plants that is jarring at best. It is like a sonata where each note is played on a different instrument. Perhaps it will work for a "Spike Jones garden" but for your typical home it is out of order.

The bottom line is continuity. Continuity is that thread of uniformity that ties it all together. It is what makes the parts into a whole. It gives a feeling of balance and completion. It is much, much better to buy a larger quantity of one kind of plant.

Choosing Healthy Plants

Of course you want to get off to the best start possible with good healthy, vigorous plants.

An ideal bedding plant is secure in the pot (not wobbly) and not overgrown. It has healthy growing tips and may well be budded or in flower already.

Try to get fresh stock. Plants that have sat in the nursery longer have had more opportunity to be damaged in any number of ways. Here are a few things to look for and avoid:

Sometimes trays of excess bedding plants are kept under the display tables. It is pretty dark down there and the plants can etiolate - that is a fancy word for stretching for the light and getting spindly and just not in peak condition.

When not in the sun, the potting mix can remain wet and waterlogged. That is an invitation for fungus problems and root rot. Older leaves start to die back and get slushy. Once this has started it is very hard for a plant to recover. Again, your best defense is just to avoid plants like that and go for fresh stock.

Plants that have been held too long may be overgrown. The pot is packed with roots and the top is bigger than it should be. To really get going, a plant like that should have its roots "opened up" and top cut back, perhaps in half, to keep a balance between leaf and root. Being root bound in annuals is not as bad as with woody plants. By woodies it could prove fatal many years later. Still, root bound annuals have lost their vigor for the moment.

A further potential problem is drying out. Bedding plants are often a lot of plant in a little pot. They need frequent watering - in hot weather this could easily be twice a day. Unfortunately, it is possible that the plants are watered only after they have dried and wilted. Often watering in time will bring them back. The little plants will plump back up and be none the worse for their experience. But sometime that plant can reach the "permanent wilting point". That is the plant version of a coma - the plant will live, but remain stuck and not fully regain its prior self. The plant stops growing and leaves may have a thin, wilted feel, even though the soil is moist. If you see that, pass on those plants.

Bottom Line

The real scoop with annuals is that they are a lot of fun. You get almost instant gratification, with flowers quickly filling your space. Start with the old favorites - they are old favorites for a very good reason - namely that they are hardy, easy to grow dependable performers. And isn't that what you want? So plant loads of them and watch the fun. Enjoy!

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