Gardeners should plan before plant shopping

posted April 16, 2018 8:33 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Bev Carney | Gardening Columnist

Soon the garden centers will be bursting with colorful flowers and vegetables for you to take home and plant outside. Each year, that first visit to the garden center is one of the most exciting events of the season. In answer to the classic question: “Do I have a place to put this plant?” a gardener invariably answers, “I will find a place.” Yet sometimes that particular plant is not the best choice for our gardens.

Before buying, here are some things to consider. First, do you have the proper growing conditions? As lovely as so many shade-loving flowers can be, we have little shade so I have to choose carefully Do you have enough shade for the plants you want? Enough sun? Does the plant require moist soil? If so, do you have a moist area or are you prepared to create one? An old kiddie pool, poked with some drainage holes and buried underground, can make for a good boggy or damp area.

Do you have the time to take care of potted plants? As much as I love walking up to an entrance that is lined with potted plants or stepping onto a neighbor’s flower-rimmed deck, I don’t have the patience to take care of a bunch of potted plants. I can manage a few giant pots which require little care, but as far as small pots, I recognize that I’m not going to keep them regularly watered. The same goes for hanging plants and those charming pillow packs. I love them, but they aren’t for me.

If you buy now, will you be able to take good care of these plants before they are ready to go into the ground? This early in the season, it is very risky to plant most annuals outside, yet the garden center has a wide selection of healthy plants. By the time the temperatures are better suited for planting, the selection of available plants might be limited. Most purchased seedlings have fully developed roots which need more room to grow. If you will be able to care for these plants, buy now for the best selection, and pot those plants up into larger containers and give them lots of light and warm conditions until the weather improves. If possible, set up a growing zone indoors with fluorescent shop lights erected over a table full of plants.

The selection of spring-planted, summer-blooming bulbs can be very tempting. There’s a reason you plant these in the spring — the bulbs won’t survive our harsh winters. Canna lilies, dahlia, elephant ears, gladioli and peacock orchids are all spectacular summer flowers, but the bulbs or corms must be dug in the fall if you want the plant to last for more than one year. Come fall, will you be prepared to do all of that digging? If not, there is really no harm in planting these bulbs for just one season, but recognize that fact when buying.

Watch your wallet. Unless you have unlimited amounts of money to spend, make a list of what you want and try to stick to it. There’s still plenty of time to start quick-growing annuals from seed. For a few dollars you can have oodles of cosmos, marigolds, zinnias, sunflowers, calendula and nasturtium. If you have room to pot up and store some of the slower-growing annuals such as snapdragons, get them now when they are available in inexpensive three- or four-packs and you will have larger specimens at planting time.

Spring is here. Celebrate at your local garden center. You’ll be shopping local and having fun at the same time.

Beverly Carney can be reached

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