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Buying Plants
by Linda Tominson
January 1, 2000

Once only garden centers and nurseries sold plants and bulbs starting at the beginning of May. As gardening became more lucrative more stores set up seasonal Gardening Centers. Perennials, bulbs, roses and even trees have been turning up in various stores for sale in early April. Although, the urge to buy anything related to spring is great, check the condition of plant and the hardiness rating. Central Alberta is rated between 2a and 3a with the higher number indicating a slightly milder climate.
Perennials and bulbs are often sold in bags or boxes. Never just grab a boxed plant off the self without peaking into the box. If the plant has just arrived at the store it should still be dormate allowing for it to be brought home and stored in a cool place until it can be planted outside. Once a dormant plant or root has been in a warm environment it will begin to grow. When dormancy is broken the buds start to swell, and shoots start to grow. Once a plant or bulb has reached this stage it will need to be potted up as soon as it gets home. The plant must be kept under lights or a bright window until it can be planted out. The last scenario is the plant grew while in its box and looks pale, and stringy or dead. Leave it at the store.
Roses and small shrubs also often come in boxes with the canes or stems sticking out. They like the perennials will have been shipped when they were dormant but the buds swell and leaf out when it is placed in a warm environment. Plants with swollen buds can be placed out when the frost is gone from the ground. Roses with leaves should be kept moist in a sunny place until established roses begin to leaf out.
Small trees and shrubs are usually sold in pots but they’re also sold in ball and burlap and with bare roots. Potted plants are sold all season as most plants can thrive in a pot. A plant whose roots are wrapped in burlap can also be planted all summer but it can be difficult to keep the roots moist. Bare rootstock is sold in early spring and late fall when the plant is dormant. Bare root plants are usually kept in moist sawdust and planted as soon as possible.
When trees and shrubs are brought inside for sale their dormancy is broken causing them to leaf out early. A hard frost can damage the leaves while a heavy snowfall will break branches.
Ideally it is still best to buy plants that are grown locally insuring that the plant can thrive in Alberta’s climate. Unfortunately, these plants are becoming harder to find. Plants grow faster in warmer climates making it more economical to grow and ship them to Alberta. Most Alberta grown plants are costly as they take longer to grow.
When buying a plant, look it over closely. The leaves should be uniformly green. The stems should be sturdy and not flopping over. Foliage, stems or trunks should intact. Look to see if the plant has a balanced shape. The pot must be in proportion to the pot. If the pot is small for the plant, look to see if roots are growing from the bottom of the pot. If not, the plant has been newly potted and doesn’t likely have enough roots to sustain it.
The one thing to check for on trees, shrubs and roses is the guarantee. All garentees are not equal. Lifetime garentees are only good if the receipt is easy to find and the store lasts a lifetime.
A years guarantee is good as most plant will succumb to the first cold winter if they don’t like the local climate. A seasons guarantee is rarely used. If a plant is healthy when purchased, properly planted, and watered regularly, it should be alive in the fall.

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