Starting a garden or adding new perennials to your landscape is made easier by selecting plants that are already thriving. Healthy plants that are not stressed will require less care and will establish themselves more quickly. Here’s how to choose healthy perennials at your York, PA, plant nursery.
How do you find which plants are the best? At first glance, most plants at a reputable plant nursery appear to be healthy - and usually, they are. However, it’s worth checking each plant a little more in-depth to be sure you’re not bringing home a diseased or dying plant, or pests that can spread to your existing perennials.
Here’s a checklist for choosing healthy perennials:
1. Foliage. Carefully inspect the foliage of each perennial you’re considering. Avoid plants with wilting, yellowing, dry, or dropped leaves. These plants are already stressed and will have a hard time adapting to the added stress of replanting.
2. Insects. Closely check the undersides of leaves, the base of flowers, along the stalk and in the soil for any insects, such as aphids, which will spread rapidly throughout your garden. Even if you don’t see live insects, look for signs of insects, including holes in the leaves, spots, sticky residue, and webbing.
3. Disease. Signs of fungal, viral, or bacterial disease in perennials can include wilted or distorted leaves, bumps and spots, mushy areas, brown necrotic lesions, and powdery mildew.
4. Overall shape. Only consider perennials with a full, compact shape. Avoid tall, “leggy” plants, which is a sign that the plant has been straining for sunlight. These plants are typically weak and stressed. Perennials that are too tall are more susceptible to flopping over in the first stiff breeze, and will rarely produce healthy flowers.
5. Roots. Avoid any plants that are pot-bound. Examine the bottom of the pot; if roots are growing out of the bottom, the plant is pot-bound and stressed, and it may have a hard time recovering. On the other hand, if you try to lift the plant out of the pot and it pops right out and has very few roots, it’s not quite ready to be planted outdoors as the roots need more time to establish. Also, avoid any plants with brown (dead) roots; the roots should be whitish and pliable.
6. Weeds. If the pot contains not only a perennial but an unwelcome guest like grass or any weed, this is not only a sign of neglect, but it can also mean a stressed plant that is competing for nutrients. The last thing you want to do is introduce more weeds into your garden!
7. Flowers. Avoid buying perennials that are already flowering. The flowers won’t last, and you won’t get to enjoy any new flowers until next year. Instead, choose perennials that are in the bud stage or haven’t budded yet.
8. Soil. The soil should be moist all the way through; dry pots mean stressed plants, and mossy soil can mean overwatering. Either way, you’re not getting a plant that’s in prime shape to be transplanted into your garden.
9. Sale plants. End-of-season perennials may be on sale, but they are more likely to be pot-bound or heat-stressed from sitting outdoors all summer.
If you have a green thumb and are willing to nurture perennials that aren’t quite perfect (barring diseased or pest-ridden plants), you may be able to get them at a bargain. But buyer beware - not all will survive.