Archive for Thursday, March 11, 2004

How to spot a neglected plant

March 11, 2004


Like any good parent, a good gardener spends considerable time ensuring that a budding bulb or blossom is tended with the utmost care.

But what happens when a baby-bloom gets the sniffles?

Beth Jasper, a retired nursery owner from Orland, Calif., has been gardening for 50 years. She says she knows how to spot a neglected plant.

"I had a girl come into the nursery with a houseplant that she killed in about two weeks," Jasper said. "I could see that it had been way too wet and then dried out."

The first-time houseplant owner swore to Jasper that she had done only what was best for the plant.

"I told her, 'You're telling me one thing, and your plant is telling me another,' " says Jasper.

Caring for a new bud can be frustrating, especially when your green thumb is tinged a shade yellow with brown speckles.

However, specialists agree that prevention is the best cure. Top horticulturalists offer tips to make this spring's garden healthier.

Begin with the pre-spring planning.

"One of the most important things is to plan. Sit down with a good seed catalog and start to plan out a garden now," said Stephen Reiners, associate professor of horticultural sciences at Cornell University. "Now is the perfect time to plan it all out."

When the first blade of grass sprouts and the flowerbed thaws, hibernating gardeners catch spring fever. Reiners warns that can be counterproductive if cold weather returns.

"Don't just run out and start planting on the first nice day of spring," Reiners says. "Make sure you plant everything for the best weather and not just respond to the first day of spring."

When the time finally comes to start planting, Reiners suggests that careful selection of plants is key to a successful garden.

"There are some obvious things to look for. For example, browning leaves, holes, like the plants have been chewed, or wilting," Reiners said. "These are easy to spot."

Unfortunately, not all ailments are as easy to spot.

"A few years ago a curator and I noticed that the nandinas just didn't look right and that's strange because they are such a sturdy plant," said Scott Aker, a horticulturalist at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., about the ornamental shrub. "A few days later he brought the nandina in, and we realized the voles had been chewing it from underneath."

With more than 20 years experience in the garden, Aker said he thought he had seen it all, but unexpected visitors taught him to check all possible angles. He also offered budding gardeners some advice.

"Don't get discouraged. Even a gardener like me, who's planted all kinds of exotic plants has killed all kinds of exotic plants," he said.

Gardeners can take other steps to promote a healthy garden.

Keeping leaf litter and garden debris to a minimum will also encourage a healthy garden and discourage insects from setting up shop, says Erica Glasener, co-author of "The Georgia Gardeners Guide" and "Month by Month Gardening in Georgia." She suggested treating plants and gardens for pests in April or May, before adults have time to lay eggs.

Pay close attention to a plant's water and nutrient needs, says master gardener Paul James of Home & Garden Television's "Gardening By the Yard," because a well-fed, well-maintained plant can resist disease far better than one that's neglected. And the perfect garden requires not only selecting healthy plants but also selecting plants that can thrive in specific regions.

"What you need to do is find out what plants are indigenous to your area," Glasener said. "Look around your neighborhood, see what your neighbors are growing."

Glasener said one of the best ways to do this is to check with a county extension service. Generally sponsored through universities, these services often offer free information, soil testing and advice.

Here is more plant-tending advice from HGTV:
Maintenance 101
Preventing Plant Disease
Buying Healthy Plants

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