Only the Best

Start your garden right with the highest quality seeds and plants.

| December/January 2004

  • Follow easy steps to garden success by choosing quality seeds and plants.
    Rick Wetherbee
  • Indulge your senses and selection by purchasing plants from your local nursery or garden center.
    Rick Wetherbee
  • For more unusal plants and wider selection, check out the many mail-order nurseries across the country.
    Rick Wetherbee
  • Obvious signs of a root-bound plant include bulging pots or a profusion of roots growing out of the bottom drainage holes.
  • Purchase seed from companies who run germination tests on a regular basis and can qualify the “packed for” date with an estimate of how long the seed has been stored and under what conditions.

As you begin planning this season’s garden, you’ll find lots of advice on how to grow like a pro. But what about buying plants like a pro? With so many places now selling herb plants — from grocery stores and neighborhood plant sales to farmer’s markets and specialty mail-order nurseries — you can easily end up paying a lot for less than the best. Even healthy plants can be worthless if mislabeled (it does happen) or if they are ill suited to your garden site.

Before you begin budgeting for plants this spring, remember that how a plant performs in your garden depends on the quality of the plant or seed, as well as your gardening skills. Buying plants can be a blunder unless you equip yourself with a few plant particulars and shopping strategies.

Make a List, Check it Twice

Before heading out to your local nursery or garden center, create  a checklist of questions: Are the plants grown locally, and if not, have they been acclimated to the outdoors? Does the nursery offer quantity discounts? Ask about their guarantee policy as well, which can vary from no guarantee to full replacement or refund for any plant that fails within the first six months. Your garden site’s special circumstances include light conditions (sunny or shady), soil quality and pH (sandy or clay, acid or alkaline), plant hardiness zone (how cold your area gets in winter) and the amount of space you have for plants.

Use the staff as a resource for questions, just don’t rely on everything they say. Reputable garden centers employ trained horticulturists or garden experts, but many also hire seasonal help with minimal garden knowledge or training. Some questions also can be answered by reading detailed plant labels in the pot — including the plant’s name (both botanical and common), sun and moisture requirements, growing tips and hardiness zone — though the information may be too general in nature or the plant may be mislabeled. I found anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) labeled as hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) at one nursery. You’ll have better success if you bring a good pictorial plant reference guide with you when shopping for plants.

Signs and Signals

Buying your plant at a discount store doesn’t make it a bargain. Nor does buying a plant at a specialty nursery guarantee success unless you know what to look for.

First, weed out the weaklings. Wilted leaves or foliage that looks yellow, browned or curled are often signs of careless or inadequate watering, or of possible pest or disease problems. (Thoroughly check leaves for aphids,  pests or other insects.) Plants that have outgrown their pots may be root-bound and will take longer to establish once in the ground. Obvious signs of a root-bound plant include bulging pots or a profusion of roots growing out of the bottom drainage holes. Plants with lanky growth are a result of inadequate light or high-nitrogen fertilizers. These weaklings are more apt to suffer from stress and are more susceptible to diseases and insects.

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