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Purchasing Plants

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
April 16, 2014        
Source:  Beth Berlin, Extension Educator-Horticulture
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns & Benton Counties


Purchasing Plants
By Beth Berlin, University of Minnesota Extension

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (04/16/14) — Purchasing plants each spring can add a little energy into any gardener.  Annual flowers, vegetable plants, and perennials can be a vibrant addition into our gardens.  Purchasing quality, healthy plants and having a plan before purchasing them will help ensure you are happy with your experience.

Putting thought into what colors, varieties, and overall appearance you want to have in your gardens this year will help you put together a purchase list before going to the greenhouse to purchase plants.  Greenhouse and nursery centers can bring life into a gardener’s veins again in the spring, but it can also cause you to go on a spending spree if you don’t have a plan.  This may result in a mix-and-match in your yard that wasn’t really what you had in mind.

Purchasing plants that are healthy is critical.  When sifting through the plants, look for ones with strong, sturdy stems, and compact growth; avoid any that look leggy and struggle to hold themselves up.  If the plant is leggy, look for new growth at the base of the plant.  Once you take the plant home an option is to prune out the overgrown parts, and the new growth will develop into an attractive compact plant.  One tip with tomato plants is to remove lower leaves and bury the plant up the stem; tomatoes have the ability to send off adventitious roots from the stem.  Another tip when purchasing vegetables and annual flowers is to purchase disease resistance varieties. Battling disease can end up being very expensive or result in loss of appearance or production of the plant, so be sure to look for varieties that indicate disease resistance.

As tempting as it may be to purchase plants already in bloom, purchasing plants with ample amounts of buds is more important.  Transplanting any plant may put stress on the plant, and therefore if you can’t fight the temptation to purchase plants in full bloom, when transplanting remove those blooms to allow the plant to put the energy into the roots.

Tips for purchasing perennials include inspecting the plant and being sure that it has healthy growth.  Inspect the plant for spots or discolored leaves that may be signs of disease.  Also inspect the plant for any signs of insect damage, be sure to look closely and inspect the underside of the leaves as well. Purchasing perennials can be quite the investment so look for plants that have numerous stems coming out from the crown.  This is a sign the plant is more mature and likely has a more sufficient root system.  If the plant can be easily popped out of the container and the roots are tightly wound around to the point that very little soil is visible, this plant is root-bound.  Depending on how long the plant has been in this condition it might be already stressed.  Roots should be a healthy white color and be established to a point that some soil is still visible if taken out of the pot.  If the roots are brown and mushy, this is an unhealthy root system.  Perennials are an investment, and if planted properly and taken care of, they will return year after year, so be sure to do an inspection before making the investment.  Again, purchase perennials with buds rather than blooms.

Regardless if you are purchasing an annual flower, vegetable or a perennial, be sure to read the label or tag to determine what type of conditions the plant requires.  Consider its light requirements. A label indicating “sun” requires six to eight hours of sunlight, “part shade” or “part sun” indicates a need of three to six hours of sunlight, and “shade” is any area that will receive less than three hours of sun each day.  Also consider the soil or drainage requirements.  Some plants are quite adaptable, but others require specific soil conditions to be successful.  Determine the plant size, and be sure the area you plan to plant it in has adequate space. 

Keep in mind “right plant for the right place,” both you and the plant will be more satisfied.


Beth Berlin
Extension Educator, Horticulture
(320) 255-6169
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