Here's a short primer on how to buy bedding plants.
As we all wander the aisles this spring at our favourite plant store, dreaming and imagining what our summer garden will look like if we purchase just this one more plant, let me give you a few tips on how to buy bedding plants that will grow well for you. There are some rules of thumb you might want to be aware of to ensure the plants you take home are healthy and will thrive in your garden.
To begin with, many of these comments on how to buy bedding plants will apply mainly to annuals and vegetables although some, like disease checking, will apply equally to perennials as well.
Obviously, my first suggestion about counting the number of plants in the pack should only apply to annuals but it is amazing how many times a customer does not count the plants.
They only discover a missing, dead or diseased plant when they start planting a few hours after getting the plants home. The better garden centres check their packs daily (yes, all greenhouses kill plants - the better ones only kill fewer) and weed out any dead or missing plants. So, count them before you pay for them.
The second and most obvious suggestion to me (maybe its only obvious because I've grown hundreds of thousands of plants over the past twenty years) is to look for diseases and pests on the plants.
When garden flower packs are grown closely together, they tend to develop fungus and mildew problems.
The key sign here is to see how you feel when you walk into the retail greenhouse. If it is hot and humid and uncomfortable to be inside the greenhouse area - there is likely disease present. Shop elsewhere.
Good growers have very high rates of ventilation to keep the plants dry and healthy. Poor growers have too hot greenhouses with too small or non-existent fans.
Look for bugs. Oh boy, do they like tender bedding plants. A tip here is to casually wander over and check out the green peppers. Green peppers are aphid magnets. If the peppers have aphids, you can be sure there are aphids elsewhere too.
Watch the fuschia and verbena baskets or plants, whiteflies and aphids both love these plants.
Spider mites love marigolds so do watch for leaf mottling when you buy bedding plants.
This is the time of year when temporary garden centres spring up as fast as dandelions on the front lawn. Here's the problem and here's the solution.
They often don't water their plants properly. If a plant is not watered properly, if it is missed on a hot day it wilts. One or even two slight wiltings will not overly hurt a plant (any greenhouse grower who tells you they have not wilted a plant here and there should be put on a lie detector).
You can only bring a plant back from death's doorstep a limited number of times before it will weaken and not perform in your garden.
If you can buy bedding plants fresh off the delivery truck or shortly after unloading, they are as fine as any other plant in the city. Leave them for a day or two of mismanaged water and you begin to take your chances. I have seen fine plants come off a truck, be put on the asphalt (never, ever, buy any plant that is or has been sitting on pavement of any kind) and be wilted and sorry looking in an hour.
Never take home a wilted plant unless you get it for free and never actually buy bedding plants that are wilted.
Do not buy bedding plants that are ugly, tall plants. These are mismanaged.
If the petunias or impatiens are over 4 inches tall, they are too tall and likely have browning and dying leaves on their bases.
Again, I've seen outlets expecting you to buy bedding plants such as petunias, pansies and marigolds that look more like vines than annuals.
Tomatoes and peppers should be no more than 6 inches, thick and green. (Eight inches at the maximum as you can bury the excess stems.)
If a plant is flopping over (other than vines that are supposed to flop over) when it is by itself and not supported by nearby plants, it is too tall, do not buy it.
Geraniums can be taller if they are spaced properly but they should be well branched - not a single stem. I confess I would never purchase a geranium that was crowded on the bench or had a single stem - they tend to be too tall and leggy and take too long to recover before setting blooms.
I'm sure a few retailers won't be too thrilled with me but hey, it is your garden and your plants. You deserve the best. Now you know how to look for them.