I am sure that many of you are caught off guard when shopping at nurseries, garden shops and retails stores when confronted with beautiful looking roses, orchids, bonsai’s, cacti, and trees.
It could be difficult to pick up and pay for the right plant; here are seven tips on what to look out for when making your next purchase.
#1: Know that it’s going to take time
When buying plants from large retail stores, you must be aware that many of those plants were grown in large warehouses with little or no natural sun light. Thus when planting those specific plants out into the garden they often go into a bit of shock and take a couple of weeks if not a few months to rectify.
#2 Look at the soil
When choosing plants have a good look at the soil in which the plant is growing, does the soil have moss on it? This could mean that it has been over watered, and if planted into a garden it could die off very quickly.
#3 Then look at the roots
Is the plant root bound? If the plant is root bound, it will take longer for the plant to grow out of that shape when planted out into a garden. So what should you be looking out for? Pick up the plant pot or bag, can you see lots of roots, is there very little soil in the pot or plant bag, are there roots growing out the bottom of the pot or bag? These small pointers could mean that the plant is root bound. If you have bought the plant or it’s been given as a gift and you notice the plant roots following the shape of the pot/bag, it is root bound. Use your hands gently to ease the roots out of that shape before planting. The plant will do much better if this is done.
When buying orchids from shops, don’t just buy a plant with the most beautiful flowers. Lift the orchid out of the pot which it is in (most orchids are grown in pots within pots) have a good look at the roots. The roots should be green in sections, if they are dark grey, don’t buy the plant. Rather look for a healthy plant with small sections of green root growth and flowers.
#5 When buying trees or bushes
When it comes to buying trees a lot of people go straight for the bushiest and tallest tree or the one with the most flowers and fruit. When I look for a tree, I look for a tree with good height and spread, then I look for a thick trunk/stem. A tree with a thicker trunk/stem will be stronger in winds and heavy rains.
Top tip: When buying fruit trees, once planted, remove any fruit or flowers for the next three to five years. This will give the tree time to grow and establish without wasting its precious nutrients on the fruit. Once the tree has reached the desired height you can then allow it to flower and fruit. The tree will also then have stronger branches to withstand the weight of the fruit.
#6 Look at the leaves
Another key pointer to look out for: Is the plant going yellow on the leaves? This could mean that the plant is lacking nitrogen within the soil. The most common factor for this is something called leaching (when water washes the good nutrients out of the soil). This is especially seen when watering pot plants, the dark residue left on the drip tray or dish is often filled with excellent nutrients which have been washed/leached out of the soil.
Remember to look out for aphids under the leaves especially on herbs, veggies and roses. Aphids suck the sap of the plant, if too many aphids are on the plant it will eventually die.
#7 When buying seeds
Look out for heirloom seeds rather than F1 hybrid seeds. Heirloom seeds have not been genetically modified (GMO), read more here. If you are unsure it will say heirloom seed on the seed pack.
When choosing bulbs, feel the bulbs, do they feel like they have a seed inside of them? If they feel soft then don’t buy them, rather look for a good rounded/oval shaped bulb which has a solid centre.
These tips should help you buy plants that will last far longer, remember to always apply them when buying plants for yourself or as gifts.
Who is Nicholas Spargo?
Nicholas Spargo, owner of Spargo Landscape Consultants, has been in the landscape trade for 12 years as well as being a lecturer at the Lifestyle Garden Design Centre for the past year. He was awarded a Gold for a design at the Lifestyle Garden Design Centre Design Show in 2008, is an Invasive Species Consultant and is affiliated with the South African Green Industries Council.
Landscaping and education are very close to his hear