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What to look for when shopping for plants

By JOE LAMP’L
DIY Network
Bringing home healthy, disease-free plants will make your garden look better and make your gardening experience more enjoyable. Here are a few simple guidelines as you head out to the nursery.
A little industry secret: Plant growers and retailers know most of us cannot overcome the seductive urge to purchase plants in full bloom. Although the nursery wants plants at their peak color, you don’t. Plants already in flower require a lot of energy to sustain those blooms, robbing valuable resources needed to look their best in your garden. To get more bloom for your buck, buy plants with flower buds that are not yet in bloom. This way, you can get the plants in the ground and allow time for the roots to establish a bit. If you’re really brave, pinch off the flower blooms before planting. They’ll grow back and the roots will receive the plant’s energy, resulting in plants with the staying power to look even better.
Next, check the roots. If it is a woody ornamental, tree or shrub, don’t be afraid to pull it from its container. Healthy plants will have light-colored roots. They will appear evenly distributed without looking crammed. Stay clear of plants whose roots are dark or spiral inside of the container. These pot-bound plants may have a difficult time establishing in the landscape.
Inspect each plant for signs of pests; many hide on the underside of leaves. Look closely for leaf stippling, small black flecks or a sticky residue, especially on the underside.
Avoid purchasing plants that appear leggy or stretched. These have been growing in insufficient light. Although they may recover, their growing conditions have been less than ideal. Your goal for great-looking, thriving plants is to purchase those that don’t exhibit signs of stress.
Pass on buying any plants with abnormally light foliage. It may indicate too much watering or too little. Ironically, these extremes cause similar symptoms. Avoid any diseased plants. No matter how much the markdown, it’s never worth spreading diseases to your unaffected plants at home. Instead, buy disease-resistant varieties. These are especially common among vegetables. Although resistance does not ensure immunity from a particular disease, it indicates the plant displays genetic characteristics that minimize the impact of certain specified risks.
Although plant tags should indicate if a plant is resistant to certain diseases, do your homework. The Internet, books, newsletters and magazines are all good sources. Your local county extension service is also a great source of information specific to your area and zone.
So the next time you head to the garden center, leave your emotions at home. It’s simply the best way to keep unhealthy plants out of your garden. In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.
(Joe Lamp’l, host of Fresh from the Garden on the DIY Network and GardenSMART on PBS, is a Master Gardener and author. For more information, visit www.joegardener.com and www.DIYnetwork.com. For more stories, visit scrippsnews.com.)

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