You can up your growing game with these easy tips from gardening expert Claire Mummery.
It's that time of year again - the garden centres are bursting with bright and beautiful plants, just begging you to take them home to grow.
But wait! There is far more to consider before parting with your money. Expert gardeners are extremely picky when choosing what to buy, and for very good reason. Here are my top tips for choosing plants from the garden centre.
Bigger is not better
The bigger plants sure look like they're thriving, don't they, They charm you with their lush growth as you walk by, lulling you into a false sense of strength and vibrancy. But the larger plants are actually telling you that they have probably been in the pot for far too long. This can make the plant stretched and lanky, as it is still trying to grow in soil that has no nutrients or space. Once you bring this plant into your home garden, it will struggle.
Colour is key
When choosing plants, take time to search for the ones that have the healthiest, deepest colour. Go with your initial gut reaction here, as your mind can try to trick you into purchasing because you're ready to buy. You're searching for optimum health to give you the best chance at success and colour is a great indicator.
Get to the root of it
Pick up the pot or punnet to see if there are endless roots coming out of the bottom. This will tell you how long the plant has been in the pot and if it is just surviving on the daily watering the garden centre gives it. It is better to choose a plant that has only a few roots poking through.
No hitch-hikers please!
Next, you want to look under the leaves for unwelcome hitch-hiking pests like whitefly and aphids. The last thing you want is to introduce pests into your own garden. It is so common to do this, so I urge you to take your time inspecting. If the leaves look weak, are odd colours, or have brown spots, this can sometimes mean they are being attacked by these tiny insects.
When buying fruit trees or berries, check down the stems and look for ants, which are often a sign of scale infestations, and can seriously affect the growth of your plant.
Quality, not quantity
Are there too many seedlings in a pot? This can often be true for things such as beetroot. These days, growers are more likely to plant lots of seeds in the seed pot, without taking the time to prick out. As a result, you end up with 20-30 tiny beetroot with their roots intertwined and very difficult to separate without causing damage when planting.
Stick to the seasons
Know before you go - are the plants you want in season? Things like spinach, cauliflowers and most of the brassica family are plants that I avoid growing through the summer months, as they become a haven for aphids and whitefly. Stick to the season they are known for and you will be on the road to success.
You also really need to consider if it is warm enough to grow the plants available in the garden centre. It can be so tempting, but remember the plants you see on the shelves have been grown in indoor conditions. The weather and soil don't usually warm up enough until at least the end of October, and you will find that planting early can sometimes be a waste of time. I have done many experiments over the years and proven that those seedlings planted early continue to struggle and are overtaken in growth by those planted just a few weeks later.
Allow time to settle in
After choosing your plants and taking them home, I would recommend leaving them in their pots for a few days to adapt to your own garden conditions. If you try to immediately transplant, they could suffer from shock.
For fruit's sake
Chillies, capsicum and eggplants are eye-catching in the garden centres because these tall and lush plants are usually laden with bright-coloured fruit. While it is okay to buy these larger ones, it is best to remove the fruit before planting to give them the best start. Planting with the fruit already on them takes a lot more of the plant's energy to sustain it, so by removing this fruit and awaiting the new flowers, you will truly help the health and future production of your plant.
For more gardening advice, visit growinspired.co.nz