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Talkin' Dirt - April 2016

by Mary Beth Riggs


Wait for it!
April is the month we are all roaring to start planting. We can, but not outdoor warm-season crops and flowers. Mid-May is a good time when all danger of frost has passed. Then bring out the heat-loving tomato starts, squash, coleus, marigolds and impatiens. April remains a great time to add bare-root berry bushes, new trees, shrubs and, of course, roses.
Do You find yourself going to your local Garden Center? Consider some smart shopping tips:

Consult with the nursery staff:  The staff at a garden center provides valuable information about the plants they sell. Get to know the employees; they can give you early notice of upcoming sales or new and fresh plant deliveries.


Do your research: It’s easy to buy plants on impulse. But it’s wise to make sure a plant will grow well, and that you have an appropriate spot for it, before you bring it home.  Go to your garden center with a list of plants that should do well in your conditions.  If you see a plant that’s not on your list, read up on it to make sure it will grow for you.  Many gardeners have wasted money and had their hearts broken watching a beautiful plant die because they didn’t have the right spot for it.  Watch for neonicotinoid labeling. Neonicotinoid based pesticides have been implicated in the alarming deaths of bees and other pollinators that are so crucial to pollination. Stay clear of any plants containing neonicotinoid pesticides.


Look at the leaves: Choose plants that have fit, healthy-looking leaves.  Wilted or pale green foliage is often a sign that the plant is unhealthy.  Avoid plants with curled, black, or brown foliage.  Inspect plants for insects, as well as brown-or black-spotted leaves, which often signal disease.


Check for strong roots:  Even though you don’t see the roots, they’re one of the most important parts of the plant.  Gently pop a plant out of its pot to examine the root system.  The roots should be firm and white, if they’re discolored or mushy, look for a better plant.  Avoid root bound plants.  If the roots are circling the inside of the container, the plant is probably stressed.


Read the plant tag:  It’s easy for customers, even busy garden center staff to accidentally put a tag in the wrong plant’s pot.  Because plants sometimes get mislabeled, take a look at other plants with the same tag to make sure it matches.


Note the plant size:  Think about how important instant impact is when making a purchase.  For example, a small Japanese maple is $6. A large specimen is $60. A tiny bare-root plant from a mail-order is $11.  The large plant costs more but looks great the day it’s planted.  Smaller plants save you money but will take years to develop.  Consider your options.


Pay attention to collector varieties: Certain plant groups (such as hostas, daylilies, and peonies) are the focus of plant collectors who have created a large number of cultivars, including some rarities.  Generally, the more obscure, the more expensive.  When it comes to rare plants, you’re paying for scarcity, not the value as a landscape plant.  In fact, some are rare because they’re difficult or slow-growing—the opposite of what most gardeners are looking for.


Select plants that aren’t in bloom: While we’re drawn to beautiful flowers, it’s always best to purchase plants that aren’t in bloom.  This is because flowering plants put energy into their beautiful blossoms.  Plants that aren’t blooming send more energy to becoming established in your garden.  Short, stocky plants are usually better picks then tall, leggy ones.


Look for plants in the middle: Garden center employees may water inconsistently.  So first look at the middle group of plants on the table.  They’re usually watered the best.  End plants may have been missed.


Pack your babies with care to arrive in your garden safely!


We asked the question: What are you most looking forward to planting this spring?

Ellen Caywood says: My vegetable garden! I plant everything in containers: my usual sugar snap peas, bok choi, several kinds of lettuce, five kinds of tomatoes, pole beans, onions, squash, zucchini and this year I am trying mini-bell peppers. It sure is nice to get fresh produce in the summer.


Happy Gardening! - Mary Beth

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