Tim Daly

Even though we are in the winter months, spring is around the corner. Soon, homeowners will be purchasing plants for their landscapes. Buying healthy plants from the start will improve their chances of successfully becoming established.

Sometimes, nursery plants have problems that can inhibit their performance in the home landscape. When purchasing plants, carefully examine all parts of the plant before purchasing to make sure the plant material is of high quality.

When shopping for plants, in addition to the specific ones you want to purchase, observe the general health and appearance of all of the plants. Most of them should be healthy, well watered, and free of pest problems. If you find plants that are wilting, diseased, infested with insects or you observe anything else that does not look right, consider finding another source. Each plant should have labels on or near them to identify the species and the cultivar.

Examine the main trunk or stems. They should be thick and have a healthy, compact appearance. Do not purchase plant material that has long, spindly growth. This can indicate the plant has not received adequate light, may be root bound in its container, or suffering from some other malady. Examine the trunks and stems to make sure there are no breaks, cracks, or scars.

The plants should have clean, healthy, lush foliage with excellent color. If you observe leaf spots, burning on the edges of the leaves, yellowing, and wilting, this may indicate that plants are suffering from pest infestations, lack of or too much watering, and a host of other problems. Often, these problems are difficult to observe, and all parts of the plant should be thoroughly examined. Carefully inspect the leaves, particularly their undersides, the stems, flowers, and root system for signs of potential pest infestations. You do not want to bring any insects or diseases into the landscape that could potentially spread to your other plants.

A healthy root system is one of the most important factors in determining the overall health of the plant, the success of transplanting it and becoming adapted to site. Poor quality roots reduce the chances of the plant surviving. In container plants, pull the plants out of the containers and examine the roots. If the plant lifts out easily, it could be suffering from root rot or it was recently potted and needs more time to grow. The roots should be a white to light brown in color. If the roots are black and mushy, or non-existent, then the plant is most likely suffering from some type of root rot or damage. If you observe masses of roots packed into the rootball, or if the roots are growing out of the bottom, then roots have become pot bound and the plant should not be purchased. The container planting medium should be moist, not dry or overly wet.

Purchasing healthy, high quality plants at the nursery prior to planting is the most important key to having attractive landscape plants. Sometimes inexpensive plant material may not necessarily be the best. Paying a little extra for good material free of any maladies will help improve the likelihood of having an attractive landscape. 

Timothy Daly is Agricultural and Natural Resource Agent with Gwinnett County Extension. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu or http://www.gwinnettextension.com