Buying Plants

Buying Plants in Pots

Many garden shops and nurseries offer an extensive variety of perennials planted in containers. It is possible to find a diverse array in nearby places and an even wider selection by mail order. When you shop locally, you can choose the individual plants you prefer and see their condition before you buy. Plant societies and garden clubs (the Rhododendron Society, for instance) often have plant sales where you can find unusual varieties.

Potted chrysanthemums at a nursery.
Potted chrysanthemums at
a nursery await planting before
becoming root-bound.

Potted perennials are offered in a number of sizes, from small plants in three- to four-inch pots to mature plants in large metal or plastic containers. The small plants are usually only a few months old. In most instances, these will not produce blooms the first season. Those in large containers (often a gallon or more) may be in bloom at the time of purchase and can be expected to quickly become established in their new sites. Smaller plants usually cost less than larger ones; when small plants are priced high, it's because they are rare or exceedingly slow or difficult to propagate.

Container plants should be planted outdoors as soon as possible after purchase. The longer they're kept in containers, the more likely they are to become pot-bound and dry out. If you must hold plants for a long time prior to planting, place them where they'll be under light shade and be sure to water them.

When you are ready to plant your potted perennials, thoroughly moisten the soil before knocking them out of the pot. You can do this by plunging the container into a pail of water (to above the pot's rim) for a few minutes. Remove the container, and cut off any roots sticking out of the pot bottom. Tap the pot on the sides, and then slide the plant out into your hand. If it is stuck, cut the pot open (assuming it is plastic) and peel it off, to avoid damaging to the roots.

Loosen and remove excess soil from around the roots. Most soilless potting mixes will fall away on their own. If the mix adheres to the roots, take away only what comes off easily or you could damage the feeder root hairs. Soilless mixes dry out faster than garden soil, so eliminate what you can without disturbing the root ball.

Always place the plant in the ground at the same depth as it was in the nursery pot. Pack the soil well around the root ball, eliminating air pockets. At the surface, provide a soil dam to hold water near the root area by making a mound of soil in a ring around the plant.

Another way of buying your plants is to order them from mail order catalogs. It may seem a little risky, as you will not be able to see and assess your plants first-hand, but you can learn the best methods for choosing and caring for plants that arrive by mail with the tips on the next page.

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