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Buying Plants
by Linda Tominson
July 1, 2001

Many greenhouses and garden centers open for the spring season giving gardeners more choice, than at any other time of the year. For some people the choice is good, for others it can be a consumer’s trap. Looking for unusual plants and bargains can be fun, but some plants being sold are not hardy to the area. Read the tags carefully before buying.
Annuals are planted in many different configurations. It is possible to purchase 4 to 12 plants in a pack, depending on the outlet. By dividing the number of plants per cell pack into the cost of the pack, it is possible find the cost of each individual plant. Sounds easy until all the other factors are added in.
Are the plants healthy? Look for insects on the plants being purchased and the plants around them. Insects will stay with the plants when they are planted outside; stunting their growth. Plants with brown tips have usually been too warm or over fertilized. Most importantly, look at the size of the plants in relation to the container.
The trend is for growers to plant fewer plants per basket. This enables plants to grow larger developing a good root system. As these plants are in individual cells the plants can be transplanted without disturbing the roots; allowing them to transform a flower bed into an instant garden. Containers with a smaller area per plant should have smaller plants. If the plants are too large their roots become matted and need to be ripped apart before they are planted. When the roots are disturbed the plant takes longer to recover and start growing again. The season is short; the quicker the plant grows the better.
When buying perennials, once again look for condition and plant size. Perennials that are packaged in boxes or bags and sold inside a warm building should show some signs of new growth. Look at the roots and pick the package with the least growth, as it is tender and subject to frost. If the roots are still dormant or have excessive growth, leave them on the shelf. At this time of year, packaged perennials can be planted directly into the garden, but cover them if the temperature drops really low.
Perennials in pots come in various sizes. The size of the pot often has a direct correlation to the cost of the plant. Other things that effect the price are; the ease of propagation, the rate of growth and the availability of the plant. Check the label on the plant for the recommended zone. Zone 3 and below survive local winters. Many a zone 4 plants will survive given a warm corner or good winter cover. Plants rated for higher zones can be considered annuals. 
The cost of trees and shrubs is also directly related to pot size and the rate of growth. The larger the pot or plant the more it costs. 
Purchase woody plants from places that will guarantee them for a year. Very few plants die during the first summer; more are effected by the long cold winter.
The old adage "what is grown on the prairies has a better chance of surviving and thriving" here is still true. At this time of year it is easy to differentiate between plants brought in from warmer climates and prairie grown. Warmer climates are ahead of ours, so their plants are leafed out while local ones are just starting. Plants hardy to the area, but grown in a warmer climate, do survive but their initial growth is often slower than prairie grown materials. 
If in doubt, about what to buy check with a Garden Center that has experienced staff. If the sales people seem unsure, ask to see the manager. While all outlets try to hire experienced staff, it is hard as the work is seasonal.
When cruising garden centers, look for new plants to add variety to the garden. Gardens that contain the same plants every year become stagnate and boring. Gardeners should try a number of new varieties in a discrete corner. If the result is good more can be planted next year. If the plants do not perform well a lesson is learned and little is lost.
There are a large number of greenhouses and garden centers in this area. Visit as many as possible as they all have something unique to offer.


Email: plumbill@telusplanet.net
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