20 May 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
Choosing annuals, perennials, ornamental shrubs and trees from a garden center or nursery can be a daunting task.
Try a systematic approach that relies on information you gather. Based on this information you rate the garden center on a scale of one to five, five being the highest.
However, recognize compromises you make and the steps youre willing to take to remedy any shortcomings. For example, you buy a scraggly, costly hybrid-tea rosebush in late July from an acceptable-to-you garden center, for one-fourth the original price because you are confident you can restore vigor.
Let us look at some basic criteria for your rating program.
First there are seasonal considerations. Garden centers ought to have what is most suitable for planting at the optimum time.
There are perennials for early spring---March and April, and annuals for late spring---May. Then there are ornamental shrubs and trees in the early spring and early autumn---mid-September to mid-October. Summer and winter offerings can only be at significantly reduced prices.
Check the garden center layout. The arrangement must be orderly and clean. The plants will appear healthy and well watered.
Shade loving plants are protected and sun loving plants, in the open. The entire nursery is shielded from the wind.
Walkways are firm without standing water. Tender shrubs and annuals have a light cloth over them in the opening morning hours showing protection from late spring and early autumn frosts.
Garden center staff is knowledgeable, responsive and able to refer you to other staff who is better informed. They are dressed neatly and appropriately for garden work.
Next are weeds. Look for uninvited greenery in the pot indicating neglect and age.
Are there lots of flower buds on perennials, annuals and flowering trees? This is another health indicator.
Notice plant foliage. Expect lush green leaves or needles, without yellowing, blemishes or wounds. Pass up plants with leggy growth.
Are there hidden disease and insect pests? Inspect the plant base and soil for evidence of rot or harmful fungi: mold, mildew. Look at both sides of the leaves for discoloration, damage and uneven texture.
Do you see snails or slugs or detect their trails? Snails mean a lack of attention, or daily care and plant inspection.
Check for healthy, white, hairy roots. Avoid circling roots, but if you do chose such a plant, clip the trailing roots; then make four equidistant inch slices in the root ball just before you plant to stimulate horizontal root growth.
Reject lightweight pots with few roots, even succulents. Lightweight often means dried out soil and a stressed plant.
Is there a proportional shape, indicating uniform development from sufficient light and nutrients? Test for strong, stout stems, and tree trunks without scars or recent wounds. Seek several strong crowns in one pot.
Plants should have labels with light and water requirements, mature size, USDA plant hardiness zone and Latin name. Search for icons of deer resistance, butterfly and hummingbird preference.
Compare your ratings with gardeners you trust. Now patronize your highest rated garden retailers. They merit your business.
Tip of the Week
Use a mask to guard against dusts and mists; gloves to protect for tetanus caused by a bacteria borne toxin found worldwide in soil; goggles to shield eyes from impact, sprays, liquid splash, flying chips and dust particles, with a seamless polycarbonate lens that fits firmly and comfortably over prescription glasses; and sound dampening ear "muffs."