All gardeners know the overwhelming feeling of excitement when stepping into nurseries, garden centres and retail stores to shop for new colours, textures and fragrances for the garden. That feeling quickly fades, however, when your newly purchased plants don’t survive past the transplanting stage.
To help you avoid disappointment and get value for money, remember these simple tips on choosing the best plants that will survive and thrive long after you’ve bought them.
Do some research
Find out what plants will do well in your garden. Whether it's a shady spot, a steep slope or a sunny corner, these microclimates provide different growing conditions - select plants accordingly to avoid buying plants that will struggle to survive or outgrow its allocated space. It is important to buy plants with labels with helpful information on species, variety, colour, height, and instructions on plant care.
Listen to the leaves
Evaluate the foliage of the plant that you are interested in buying. If the leaves are wilting or yellowing it is an indication that the plant is under stress and will spend more time recovering rather than flourishing in your garden. Foliage should be lush, green and perky.
Look at the roots
Without damaging the plant, pop it out of its container and assess the roots. If they are root-bound* and the roots are growing out of the bottom, this is an indication that the plant may be stressed or stunted and may not easily recover. Also, check if there is potting soil visible and a good proportion of soil to roots. If the plant lifts out easily and there aren’t many roots, it could probably use more time to become garden worthy.
*Root-bound: as plants mature in containers they eventually run out of space and the roots become a strangled mass twisting and rotating inside the pot.
Check for pests, diseases and weeds
Closely inspect the plant and potting soil for signs of insects or disease. Pests are usually hidden on the underside of the leaves or at the growing tips. Signs may include holes in the leaves, blackened spots, stickiness (honeydew secreted by aphids), webbing, distortions and blisters. Common pests to look out for include mites, aphids and scale. Never buy infested plants as they will spread and infest weaker plants in your garden. Weeds in the containers compete with the plant for nutrients and signal neglect. You definitely do not want to introduce any new weeds to your garden.
Consider the shape, size and stem
Select plants that are compact and full, and have multiple stems or crowns. If the plant is growing thin and spindly, it could mean that it has been straining for light and is under stress. In some cases, smaller plants give greater value than larger ones as they will establish faster and continue to grow strong, whereas larger plants might take a while to recover from the shock. If the stem is thick and woody, ensure that there are no cracks or scars, as even prior damaged plants can invite unwanted pests and disease.
Tip: when buying trees, look for a tree with good height and spread, with a thick stem/trunk that will resist winds and heavy rains.
Don’t buy plants in full bloom
Although it is tempting to buy a plant in full bloom, rather choose plants with vigorous growth, healthy leaves, and with many buds to open, as they will transplant better and ensure a longer bloom time in your garden.