How not to buy plants


Or to put it another way, when you get to the garden centre or nursery, how to choose the plants that are right for you and your garden! A few tricks of the trade from your friendly garden designer…

Rule 1: know your garden

Before you even get as far as your car, do you know how big the space is you’re filling? Is it just a few plants fill in where the spring bulbs were or is it most of a border? What are the aspect and situation where you intend putting the new plants: for example, sunny/ shady/ dry/ damp? Do you know whether your soil is acid or alkaline? After all, camellia is not going to thrive in a cold, damp spot in an alkaline soil…

Rule 2: make a List

The list should consist of the plant species or cultivars you’ve decided on, plus how many of each you need. If you’re filling in small gaps one may be enough otherwise think in threes or fives. Have a back-up option in case your specified cultivar isn’t in stock and you can’t wait. For example, Heuchera ‘key lime pie’ could be substitute with Heuchera ‘lime marmalade.

Rule 3: soil improver 

Or would you simply paint over the wallpaper that’s peeling? Preparation is all; what would be the point of spending ££££ on new plants if the soil is too poor and they all die? So budget for this too if you haven’t fed your soil with organic matter / compost for some time.

Rule 4: flower power 

So who’s bought the plant with all the flowers already in bloom? Unless you need the plant to look stunning the day you buy it or its at a marked down price, this is money for nothing. By all means have some flowers open, but look for the plant with lots of buds – otherwise the nursery got the benefit of the flowers you’ve just paid for…

Rule 5: is it healthy?

Check out the spots on the leaves. Is it water / fertiliser splash?  Or is it mildew? Look closely at the overall health. Do the leaves look fresh but spotted or are they drooping?  Are there signs of new growth? Have a look at the other plants on the display to see if they’re healthy too.

Rule 6: bigger equals better

Not always: check the soil in the pot, put your fingers in, if you’re feeling soil not roots then it’s probably been transplanted into a bigger pot recently.  Compare the size of that plant with the one in a smaller pot – they may be the same so why pay more?

Also ask yourself what effect do you want and how soon? Often three smaller plants will fill up a space more effectively straight away and spread over a couple of seasons to look more impressive than a single, initially larger, plant would do.

Rule 7: get to the root of the problem

At the other extreme from lots of soil and no roots is the pot-bound plant, where the roots go round and round and there seems to be no soil at all. This plant should have been re-potted a long time ago and is probably also suffering from lack of nutrients. If you still have to have it, do the health checks and ask if the nursery or garden centre will reduce the price; be sure to give it lots of tlc when you get home.

Rule 8: what is it?

Buying an unlabelled plant can give you a nasty shock if the one you bought grows to 10m in 3 years not 3m in 3 years as you were expecting.

Also, there are trends in plants as in fashion and some cost more because of the name. Do your homework beforehand and look for the ‘own brand’ equivalent to compare with before buying.

And most importantly, remember, gardening professionals never, ever, ever indulge in an impulse buy for themselves…well, hardly ever…


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