Be careful when choosing plants for your yard
Now that summer is officially here, I’m spending my annual allowance on plants from the local nurseries. And by “allowance,” I mean I “allow” myself to buy pretty much whatever gorgeous plant strikes me at the garden center, coming home $100 poorer after I fooled myself into thinking I was going to buy one pepper plant.
Gardening is a fulfilling and potentially expensive hobby. But there are a few lessons I’ve learned the hard way, which I’m happy to share to save you money and annoyance.
I adopted a “buyer beware” stance on purchasing plants a long time ago and have learned more than this column’s space can accommodate, so here are just a few tips.
INSPECT YOUR PLANTS
Do you want some extra insects with your plants? Gee, I didn’t think so. When I buy nursery plants, the first thing I do is look for bugs, and some are so tiny, they’re hard to see. So I carefully brush the tops of the plants with my fingertips, to see if any small insects fly out of the leaves.
I also blow on the plants to see if the same thing happens. Yes. I’m the crazy lady blowing on all the plants at the nursery. If a bunch of tiny flies explode from the plant leaves (yes, that’s happened to me) I do NOT buy that plant.
Check the leaves for evidence of munching or weird spots. Just keep an eye out for stowaways. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need extra pests at home.
LEAVE SOME ROOM
One of the planting pitfalls I’m guilty of is overcrowding. I want a lush, full-looking garden. And the reality is, it takes until, oh, probably August for that to happen naturally.
We have a short growing season compared to many other places, and that can be disappointing in September when everything looks the way you pictured it and you only have a few weeks left before a frost hits and everything is over. But you can’t rush that lushness in a high desert by cramming in your plants.
I planted a currant bush way too close to a comfrey plant, and guess what? Now they’re growing into each other. There’s no personal-space bubble for these guys, and it’s going to get worse.
Now I have to relocate one of them, and that’s OK, but it would have been better to plant them farther apart in the first place.
My new technique is to plant permanent additions to the landscape an appropriate distance apart, and then fill the areas in-between with either annuals or flowers from seed. Neither of those “fillers” are a big commitment.
DON’T NEGLECT THE ROOTS
Another big no-no is plopping a new plant baby in your yard without preparing its roots for a new growing environment. When you introduce a plant to your yard, it’s been growing in a container for weeks, months or longer. The roots are trained to grow in the shape of the pot the plant was growing in.
Those roots don’t know they can spread out, and they will continue to grow in that constrained pattern, stunting the plant and sometimes strangling it. So when you release the plant from its container, make sure you’re breaking up that matted root growing habit to encourage the plant to start letting its roots spread out.
Some are easier than others. I bought a lovely little container of creeping thyme that was so root bound I literally had to hack the roots with a knife. It seems brutal, but cutting the roots breaks them of that circular growing habit.
The local garden centers and nurseries probably won’t be too happy with me for admitting this, but when I buy a larger plant, such as a shrub or bigger, I actually wiggle the root ball out of the container a little for a peek at the roots. I want to see what’s going on down there before I buy it.
If the roots are all tangled, circled around and around, and choking out the soil in the pot, I don’t really want to start with that plant. I’d rather have a plant that doesn’t already have wonky stuff going on below-ground. Buying plants that have been sitting around too long and have essentially outgrown their containers is a no-no.
Yes, I’ve done it late in the season when plants are on sale, if I want to bargain and take a chance on a plant. But I would never pay full-price for a root-bound plant if I could help it.
ON ANOTHER NOTE ...
If you’d love to start preserving homegrown produce but you don’t know where to start, or pressure canners scare you to death, you might consider registering for an upcoming workshop presented by Colorado State University Extension.
The two-day, hands-on workshop will cover canning basics and water-bath canning on the first day, and venture into pickling and pressure canning on the second day.
The class is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 20–21 at Central Orchard Mesa Community Church. Pre-registration is required, and the cost for both days is $50 (yes, you can register for one day for $25).
The registration fee also covers the comprehensive canning book, “So Easy to Preserve.”
For information or to register, call 244-1834.