How to Buy Healthy Plants
By Jodi Torpey
Some of the best gardening advice to keep in mind as you get your garden started this season comes down to four simple words: “Cheap can be expensive.” That saying is a good reminder that price alone shouldn’t be the key consideration when purchasing plants.
Inexpensive garden plants can end up costing a lot more than you bargained for. Some will never reach their full potential because of poor care or neglect early in the season.
Remember, a healthy garden starts with healthy plants. Instead of buying based on price alone, look for quality plants that have been well tended. Your return on investment can include fewer plant problems, more flowers, bigger fruit and larger yields.
Give Plants a Health Checkup
Here are six questions to ask yourself when shopping for bedding plants, perennial plants, vegetables and herbs:
Is the plant in proportion to its pot? The answer to this question indicates the length of time the plant has been growing in the same container. Look for well-proportioned plants and avoid plants that are too tall or leggy.
Are roots growing out of the bottom of the container? Seeing roots is a sign the plant has been in the pot too long and needs to be planted quickly.
Is there healthy green growth? Leaves should be fresh and green. Check to see if there are new leaves at the end of stems and branches.
Are leaves yellowed, faded, brown or dropping? Leaf issues can signal the plant has received too much or not enough water.
Is the soil completely dry? Overly dry soil indicates the plant has received inconsistent watering and care. The potting soil should be evenly moist instead.
Are there insects on the plant? It’s best to avoid plants with insect activity because they can spread problems for the healthy plants in your garden.
After Care at Home
After you’ve selected the healthiest plants for your garden, they need some care once you get them home. Most annual plants—from bedding plants to vegetables like tomatoes and peppers—need time to get acclimated before transplanting into the garden. Then plant on a cloudy day or in the late afternoon to help reduce transplant shock.
The soil needs to be warm enough for planting tender fruit and vegetable plants. Wait until night-time temperatures are a reliable 50-55 degrees before planting. Condition plants to the outdoors before planting by exposing them to the sun slowly, over the course of about a week before planting so delicate leaves and stems have a chance to toughen up before planting.
Bedding plants also need time to get acclimated over a period of a week or more. Use row cover cloth to protect plants from wind and intense afternoon sun for 5-7 days after planting.
Perennial plants are often already acclimated to outdoor conditions and can be planted sooner.
All of these steps add up to what every gardener wants—a healthy, beautiful and productive garden.