When I brought home my very first batch of store-bought garden plants, I found immeasurable joy in the (albeit messy) experience of handling them. The rich, earthy fragrance of damp soil and verdant leaves enlivened my senses.
The delicacy with which I handled their roots as I dug them out of their containers, and the childlike glee of looking down and realized I’d utterly caked my rings and manicured nails with dirt- I just loved it! I felt connected to these wonderful green growing things which were now mine to care for.
But I had no idea what I was doing!
All aspiring gardeners are eager to get their hands dirty and bond with the dirt, the plants, and perhaps even the tiny creatures that inhabit the ground with which they’re working. Like all art forms, it can be too easy to overlook the science and methodology behind gardening.
There are few things worse that putting time and care into a project you feel passionate about, only to have it fail because you lacked an important piece of information.
For this reason, we decided to review the basics of picking a truly healthy plant to enhance your garden.
Did you know you can buy sprouted vegetable seedlings to transplant into your garden, rather than starting from scratch with seed packets? Our friends at Dr. Jimz also have some great advice to offer about the optimal fertilizer ratio for tomatoes and other garden veggies, once you’ve selected and potted some healthy transplants.
Stems and Leaves
Before you bring a plant home, you want to do a basic “health inspection.” Let’s start with the visible anatomy of the plant itself.
Do the leaves and stems appear taut and green, or are they droopy and yellowish or brown? A few bad spots are no cause for worry; perhaps a bit of light pruning is in order. But if the plant looks unhealthy in several areas, it probably is.
Too much or too little of either sunlight, water, or fertilizer can make a plant sick. Because it’s difficult to tell off-hand which of these is the culprit, it’s best not to bring home an ailing plant if you can’t tell what exactly the problem is.
If you can see the roots of the plant through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot, look out for dried or off-colored roots. It’s one thing to handle a plant that simply needs hydration, but it’s another game entirely if you bring one home that’s suffering root rot which could spread to other plants once you place it in your garden.
Bulging roots are also a bit of a red flag, but they don’t necessarily mean the plant shouldn’t be purchased. If it’s apparent that the root system has outgrown its container and gotten cramped, you simply need to be sure you’ve got the necessary materials to either place it in the ground or re-pot it in a larger container once you get home.
Flowering plants are an obvious favorite among gardeners because of the texture, fragrance, and beauty they add to your outdoor space. But you cannot simply bring one home and expecting to bloom all year, right?
Best practice is to do some research ahead of time, so you’ve got an idea what you’re looking for. A bit of homework will save you the disappointment of bringing home a gorgeous blossom in May, only to discover its blooming season ends in June! Make sure the flowering plants you pick out are conducive to your yard’s conditions, as well as the blooming schedule you’re aiming for with your overall gardening routine.
How closely do you inspect a plant’s foliage before bringing it home? A quick look at the overall health of leaves and stems takes less time than closely eyeing the plant to be sure you aren’t bringing home invasive bugs.
Check the branches, base, and undersides of the leaves for any evidence of bugs or eggs. You don’t want to introduce harmful new pests to your garden. It may also be wise to ask a retailer how fresh the soil is, and whether the plant was potted on-site.
- Stems and leaves should look at least 90% healthy, to ensure you’re bringing home a resilient plant that’s not suffering an unknown deficiency.
- Roots, if visible to you, should look healthy and moist. An abundance of roots indicates the plant has outgrown its container.
- Flowering plants should be able to thrive in your yard’s conditions. Make sure you do some research beforehad about basic needs and blooming seasons.
- Pests should always be avoided! Make sure you conduct a thorough inspection of the plant to ensure you’re not bringing home anyone you didn’t invite.
It doesn’t take much to make an educated decision about purchasing healthy plants for your garden. A bit of knowledge and a few brief moments of research will guarantee you’re introducing robust, verdant plants to your outdoor space.