Buying plants

Curb your enthusiasm – slightly – when buying plants, says Geoff Hodge

Don't rush into plant purchases at the garden centre. Image: Martin Mulchinock
Published on Tagged with , ,

At this time of year, it’s all go in the garden. There’s lots to get on with, including planting up beds, borders, containers and hanging baskets.

If you don’t grow your own plants from seeds and cuttings, then no doubt you’ll be a regular visitor to your local garden centre or nursery.

These emporiums of all things green and sparkly are like treasure troves – a visit is like having an injection of dopamine and endorphins straight into your brain. And, of course, the garden centres and nurseries know this! I used to manage garden centres and we used all sorts of  ‘tricks of the trade’ to prise that fiver (actually, probably more like £50!) out of your tightly closed wallet or purse.

This year plant sellers will be more eager than ever. The Beast from the East, the snow, the cold temperatures and all the rubbish weather that went on earlier in spring mean that most of them are trading well below normal. So, if you have a good local plant centre then please go along and support them. Once you become a regular, and they get to know you, you may even be rewarded with better service – and even special treats – from the staff.

But before you act like a kiddy in a sweetie shop, just chill and relax a bit. It’s so easy to get totally carried away.

Go, stop, wait

Herbs on display at the garden centre. Image: Martin Mulchinock

If possible, don’t visit over the weekend – there’ll be less of a scrum during the week, you’ll have more time to think about what gems to buy and the staff will have more time to help you. It’s probably best not to visit on a Monday – most of the fast-selling stock will have either sold out or been rifled through like clothes at a jumble sale over the weekend. I like to visit on a Friday – they’ll have all the new stock in ready for the expected bumper sales over the weekend.

Ideally, do your research before you go, so you have an idea what to buy – rather than standing in an oasis of plants, scratching your head. And – impossible I know sometimes – don’t be tricked into getting something you really don’t want, don’t know how it grows or what conditions and care it needs.

When I speak to gardeners, the commonest reaction to bringing home something bought on a whim is: “Where shall I plant it?”! There’s no point coming home with a beautiful ceanothus – and the only position you have is in deep shade – or a lovely collection of hostas – and the only gap is in a hot site in full sun with fast-draining, dry soil! Surely, it should be the other way around? If you have a position in shade, work out which plants will grow there first, before wasting your money on something that will be so stressed it never performs well – and as a result struggles, is stressed, prone to every pest and disease out there, and finally just withers away. There goes that £50!

Check ‘em out

Before you just chuck the plants in the trolley, look closely at them first. Check the undersides of leaves and along stems for signs of pests and diseases, and flowers and flower buds for pests – this is where they tend to congregate.

It is actually ok to carefully take the plant out of its pot and check it has a good, strong, healthy root system – this is the most important part of the plant. If it hasn’t developed a good root system – don’t buy it. I prefer to buy plants that are slightly pot-bound – you can sort that out at planting time – rather than something with few or poor roots. It’ll establish far more quickly.

Let Richard Jackson take the strain!

Or, if the whole garden centre/nursery visiting thing boggles your brain and you’re confused about what to get your hands on, have a look at Richard’s handpicked selection of plants. These plants come direct only from nurseries we know and trust. And they’ll be delivered at the perfect and correct time for planting.

Spring is good – sometimes best

Although I’m happy to plant bedding and short-term plants during the summer if I need to, I always recommend planting all long-term plants – trees, shrubs, climbers, roses – in spring (or autumn). Planting in summer puts a lot of stress on the plants – and on you, as you have to water them regularly – and they don’t always establish well. So, if you’re thinking of planting a new shrubbery or herbaceous border, hedge or rose garden – get it done asap – or wait until autumn.

Borderline hardy shrubs and herbaceous also need planting in spring (not autumn) to give them a chance to establish and build up cold resistance before they experience their first splash of freezing weather in autumn – otherwise they’ll just cork it in winter. There goes that £50 again!

Geoff Hodge

About Geoff Hodge

Geoff Hodge is a freelance garden writer, writing for various national
gardening magazines and websites – as well as lots more besides! He answers the questions submitted by Richard Jackson's Gardening Club members. Previously, he was the Web Editor for the Royal Horticultural Society, Gardening Editor of Garden News magazine and Technical Editor of Garden Answers magazine. He has written eight gardening books and broadcasts on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and is a regular guest on Ken Crowther’s gardening programme on BBC Essex.
View all posts by GeoffHodge.