What to Look for When Purchasing Plants
When you walk into the neighborhood garden center (at Menards®, of course) how can you know what plants are the best ones to fit your needs? Will these plants work where you want to put them? How do you know if the plant is healthy? Once you plant it, will it stay alive?
The first thing that you need to know is what you are looking for. A common mistake is to go to the garden center without a plan in mind, find beautiful plants that simply don't fit your needs, and buy them anyway.
You will have a much healthier garden if you do some research and stick to plants that will naturally thrive in your yard's conditions. Before you go to the garden center, take some time to plan out the areas for which you are buying plants.
Once you have determined what areas you are planting, it's time to think about light and color. How much sunlight does the area get? What colors are nearby that your plants would have to work with? What plants are already in the area that you will need to work around? Landscape plantings involve a lot of personal preference and a little knowledge. If you are thinking about planting a specific variety, research it in garden magazines or on the internet. The internet is the best way to find tips and advice from other gardeners in your area. Research the size and coverage of the plants you choose and try to get a good estimation of how many of each plant you will need (or at least write down the dimensions of each garden bed).
Now that you know what you want and how many plants you need to buy, it's time to head to the garden center. Make sure that the plants that you buy are of good quality and are healthy. If you have a question about a plant, its growing habits, or its light requirements, be sure to look for the plant's variety tag. These will be attached to the tree or shrub or they will be located on a stake in the pot. This information will give you some guidance on placement and care.
By examining the plant you are going to purchase and comparing it to other plants that are similar, you will be able to select the best-looking and healthiest plants. The first sign of a healthy plant is what you see - does it look like it's healthy? If you are purchasing a green-leafed plant, the leaves should be green rather than yellow-green, bronze or brown. Pick up the pot or container - is the soil extremely dry or extremely wet? Either may indicate a plant that has not been properly cared for. Look at the underside of the leaves and foliage. Be sure to look for white spots or black spots that could indicate insects or disease are present.
Check the root system of each plant. Roots should be well developed, but should not be coming out of the bottom of the container or winding around one another, which would indicate a root-bound plant that is much less likely to survive transplanting.
Next, look at the structure of the plant. If a plant looks like it is weak or sickly, it probably is! When you compare the plants, look for apparent abnormalities like stretched or "leggy" stems when compared to others within that variety. Stretched or "leggy" stems are usually weaker than what they should be and will not hold up when you transplant them. Shorter, stocky plants are the best choice for a healthy plant that will survive and thrive in your garden.
If the plant that you are selecting is a flowering plant of any type, look for flower buds, both open and closed. Most flowering plants will have quite a few flowers on them in the garden center and usually several more buds getting ready to open. Check both the flowers and buds for signs of browning, insect damage, or disease. However, don't necessarily rule out a flowering plant if it does not have buds. A stocky, healthy-looking plant without buds might take longer to flower, but it will have an easier time adapting to its new soil when transplanted because it can use its nutrients on root development instead of flowering. Since you will not be able to check the color and healthiness of the buds, however, stick with plants that have buds you can examine if color is important to you or if you aren't sure if the plant is healthy.
Remember that trees, shrubs and even perennials will grow larger each year. They look small when you buy them, but look closely at the plant tag and take note of how big the plant will get. Don't plant trees too close to a house's foundation as the root system will grow and may cause damage in the future. Give your trees room to grow - they will be happier and so will you!
You don't need to be a plant "expert" to select good, quality plants! All you need to do is make sure that you look at and examine each plant that you select. Remember, if it does not look good, or look healthy, it probably isn't. Select the best-looking plants available so that you won't have as much work keeping them alive once you transplant them.