I buy a lot of plants…lots, and this is the time of the year I find myself in garden centers and at plant sales looking for annuals and perennials. I buy plants for work and home and as favors for other people. When shopping I take it for granted that I know exactly what I am looking for in a plant. It is automatic. So I decided to take a minute and list some of the qualities I look for in annuals and perennials.
Just like going for groceries, it is wise to have an idea what to buy or you can get overwhelmed or spend more than you intended. I’ll admit I still do this. First, you want to find the healthiest plants. This means looking for vigorous plants with good color that are full in their foliage. If possible buy a plant in bud rather than in flower. Or wait for the sale…sometimes perennials will go on sale after they flower. Generally I recommend buying smaller pot sizes. They are cheaper and usually transplant better. When buying perennials go bigger if there is a potential division or two you can use. Spindly or yellowing or wilted plants usually are a sign of neglect or deficiency. Look closely at the leaves and stems for pests or discoloration that could indicate disease. You do not want to bring any bugs home. After looking at the top growth it is time to visit the roots. Gently tap the root ball about half way out without disturbing it and take a look. Too few can be a sign of weakness or recent repotting while too many might cause it to go into transplant shock. Look for white root tips. There is nothing more annoying than buying a full lush six pack and getting home to find one is missing or didn’t grow so check all of the cells.
Most importantly, buy local. We have some great nurseries that will go out of their way to get you the plants you want, and most of their plants are supplied by local growers. Although they can be more expensive than box stores, you are supporting the local economy, rebelling against mediocrity, and getting great service from people with the knowledge and love of gardening. Anymore, the difference in price is not that great anyway but the difference in quality can be huge. I find that the best places to shop are the spring plant sales. These sales support local beautification efforts just like UCB, garden clubs or education programs like the Horticulture program at Meramec or the Master Gardener program. Happy shopping!