Archive for Thursday, May 8, 2008

Read labels when plant shopping

May 8, 2008


It's that time of year again - plant shopping season! Local nurseries and garden centers are full of vibrant colors and attention-grabbing plants that seem to beg to be taken home.

If you are a plant lover, you know exactly what I am talking about. Even though I try to plan my garden and take a shopping list to the garden center with me, one of my favorite plants was once an impulse purchase. However, I have also had disappointments with plants purchased on a whim.

To increase your success with new plants, remember "Right Plant, Right Place." Sun and shade are big keys to how well a plant will grow in a site - but you need to pay attention to the entire day. Often, an area that receives morning shade will be in full sun in the afternoon (or vice versa), and you should choose plants accordingly.

The "right place" part that is often forgotten is the soil. The measure of acidity/alkalinity (pH) is very important. A soil test is the best way to determine soil pH and will provide recommendations on how to change soil pH if necessary. Azaleas, pin oak and white pines are examples of plants often planted in this area that may struggle because of high soil pH.

Drainage plays a role in plant survival. If you have an area that stays damp for several days after a rain, plant something that tolerates the moisture - often referred to as "wet feet." You could also install a bog garden - full of plants that tolerate the wet conditions and soak up the excess moisture. This is different from a rain garden that collects stormwater runoff and filters it.

Other plants may influence the site - large trees have extensive root systems that compete for moisture. If you want to plant under a tree, look for flowers and shrubs that are drought-tolerant and appropriate for the amount of shade/sun the site receives.

Spacing is the part of "right place" that seems to be the most difficult. Again, the little label on the plant is a wealth of information, typically listing the mature size of the plant right next to the height. If the new shrub will reach 4 feet wide, plant it 4 feet away from the next one so they each have room to expand. I know it can be difficult to visualize the plants at maturity, but planting too close together will make the plants compete with each other for water and nutrients. Disease and insect problems are generally higher in overplanted areas, because of the added stress to the plant.

Last but not least, keep in mind both overhead and underground utility lines. Trees planted under or allowed to grow in and around utility lines cost us all money through our electric rates and delay reconnection after a storm.

My advice: Go ahead and purchase what looks pretty at the garden center, but read the label or ask the staff about the plant's needs and select the site based on those needs. Planting the right plant in the right place saves you time and money - leaving more dollars to try some new stuff!

If you have questions about plant selection or other garden concerns, call a Douglas County Extension Master Gardener at 843-7058, 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, or e-mail

- Jennifer Smith is the Douglas County Extension Agent Horticulture for K-State Research and Extension.


Paul Decelles 10 years ago

Since I have a cell phone with web access, I also get on to Google and look up the plant on the spot to get more information about it and look at images of the plant to get a better idea of what it might look like when older. Also I look to see if the plant is invasive-nurseries won't always tell you that.

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