TINO CARNEVALE shares his checklist for selecting the best plants to take home — and what to do once you’ve got them there
Shares his top tips for selecting the best plants to take home from nurseries
Ifind few things more exciting than the anticipation of finding a new plant, scouring the local nurseries, garden centres and market stalls to find the perfect plant for that spot you have lovingly prepared in your garden.
Although it doesn’t happen very often, it sucks when you get a lemon. It is really disheartening to get it home and take time to plant it and tend to its every need, only to watch its health slowly deteriorate for no clear reason and sometimes even cark it.
Here’s a checklist to go over when selecting your plants which will hopefully save you money and a lot of heartache down the track.
Get to know your local nursery workers as they will be able to advise you on any particular needs of your plant. Find out what days of the week they get in their fresh stock and where it comes from, because it may have come from a different climatic zone and had to travel a long way. Hardening off or acclimatising your plants can be a great way to minimise the stress that this can cause. Gradually expose your plants to your local conditions: temperature, light levels, wind and rain.
Consider the general appearance of your prospective plant. Basically, does it look healthy or is it a bit tired? Obvious things to look for are physical damage such as broken limbs, gouges or splits in the stems.
The only thing worse than watching your new plant fail to thrive is introducing a new weed, pest or disease into your and your neighbour’s gardens. Steer clear of pots that show any indications of these stowaways. Check the undersides of the leaves and stems, and the bases of the pots as large populations are easily seen but slight infestations need a more thorough examination. Quarantining for a short period prior to planting can prevent this.
A great deal can be learnt by the squeeze test which like many things in gardening, sounds cheeky but isn’t
A great deal can be learnt by the squeeze test which like many things in gardening, sounds cheeky but isn’t. Simply give the pot a light squeeze and if there is very little resistance then the plant may be swimming in the pot. It may have only just been potted up from a smaller one and in some cases barely progressed beyond a cutting so you could be paying extra money just for potting mix.
Alternatively if the pot is as tight as a drum you could probably bet the farm on it being root-bound. This can be a bonus with plants that are easily dividable like flaxes but usually it’s a sign that the plant is struggling. The amount of roots the plant has should be roughly the same as the amount of shoots, what is above should be equal to that which is below.
The size of the plant in relation to the size of its pot and the height of the soil are good indicators of the amount of time it has spent in it. If the soil level is too high, water can run off the top and the plants remain unwatered. Plants in pots that have low soil levels usually are water stressed and nutrient deficient. Cracked pots leach water and nutrients, leaving the plant hungry and thirsty.
Although plants in bloom look very attractive and give you a great instant display, it is better to select a plant with strong, compact growth rather than large colourful flowers. If you are selecting a plant for its floral display, it’s best to choose one with loads of unopened buds which will ensure that you enjoy the flowers for longer. Steer clear of plants bearing fruit, especially if they are young.
Watch out for plants with discoloured leaves, unless of course they are variegated or deciduous plants, as this can indicate nutrient deficiencies.
Rescue missions from the discount table can be a good source of cheap plants as well as giving you a warm fuzzy feeling. If your plant is looking a little stressed, when you get home soak it in a bucket of water for about five minutes then pull it out and let it drain. I like to add a splash of worm or seaweed juice to the water. Your stressed plants should physically pick up in front of your eyes.