Plant Selection – By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”

This past week I had the opportunity to attend several plant shows which were packed with homeowners picking out plants to use in their yards and gardens. I love seeing people selecting new additions for their gardens but there are a few things that I feel are important to bring to your attention. This week we will discuss the proper way to choose which plants you should grow and how to select a good quality plant. This should be a fun experience and I hope I can give you a little different perspective on what to look for when choosing the right plant for the right place. Let’s get started!

            I can not tell you how many times I have seen people walking through a nursery or garden center and selecting plants which they do not know the growth habits of or the soil requirements necessary for the plants to grow in their landscape. I know that sometimes you see a plant that you may have never seen before and the flowers are so pretty that it is hard to resist purchasing. Unfortunately, these plants often die some weeks later because of either poor soil conditions or you purchased a plant that just does not do well in our area. Some of us are in too much of a hurry to wait for a nurseryman or women to help us in the selection process. If we would just wait and have a few simple questions answered about the plant you are considering, then you could make a more informed decision. Even plant tags which are attached to some plants may help you but they can be confusing and often misleading.

            Box stores purchase plants in bulk for a specific area such as the Southern United States and although many ore fine for our area others seldom do well or thrive in the landscape under our local weather conditions. All of these factors contribute to poor plant selection for us and large profits for the garden centers. Now there are some nursery’s that give warranties on their plants for up to a year and if you can remember where you purchased your plant from and if you can find the old sales receipt from your now dead plant, you may get a refund. But now you have to pick out another plant and the cycle continues. There is an easy way to avoid these problems simply by thinking about what type of plant you would like to have. This could be a shrub, a tree, or possibly a houseplant. You also need to know where the plant is going, its’ growth habit, and whether or not you have a sunny or shady location.    

            Once these questions have been answered you need a reference guide to give you some suggestions of plants which do well under the conditions that exist in the area you want to plant them. One reference guide I use regularly is called Landscape Plants for Subtropical Climatesby Bijan Dehan. With over five hundred and fifty pages of plants which can be grown here, you can make an intelligent decision when selecting a plant for your garden. Most of the plants listed in this book will detail the mature size of the plant, the culture or where the plant prefers to be grown in the landscape, problems associated with the plant, and cultivars to choose from that do best in our area.

            With this information you can specify which plant you want from a garden center and if the garden center does not carry the cultivar you want, you can order it. If you need color photos of plants that do well in our area there is a free publication available online from SWFWMD titled The Florida Friendly Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design. Here is the link you need. http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/publications/search.php?id=778  If you have not ordered your free copy do this now!! This one hundred and twelve page color guide is divided into easy to read sections such as trees, shrubs, groundcovers etc. Even though you have this guide I still want to give you a few suggestions on how to select a healthy plant.  

            Some garden centers may have the varieties you want and all you need to do is to select the plant you like. Most people will select the one in bloom with the pretty flowers not paying attention to the most important part of the plant, the root system. The root system will determine the future development of the plant. Look for white, actively growing roots. The roots should not circle the pot and should not be above the soil line. Roots which are dark in color indicate stress on the plant. Circling roots indicate that the plant has been left in the pot too long and even when planted in the landscape, the roots may never reach out into the soil. Sometimes these circling roots will actually strangle the host plant in the months to come. Roots extending above the soil line tell us the plant has not been cared for properly and again another plant should be chosen. Slimy roots or root balls which have a strong odor indicate the possibility of a root rot and should be left alone as not to infect other plants in your garden. You should also look closely at the stem of the plant.

            The stem of the plant should be straight and there should be no injuries, scrapes, or broken branches. Also check the root crown where the plant is attached to the root system. This area should be sturdy and clean of blemishes. Injuries in this area may not be visible immediately but death of the plant could soon follow. Many succulents are killed because of injuries during transportation; unfortunately this is usually noticed after you have purchased the plant. Follow the stem up the plant and look for bumps on the stem. Some bumps may actually be scale insects which are not easily seen as their color matches the stem color. If scales are detected you should choose another plant as these scales can be transferred to you plants.   

            Finally, you should look at the leaves on the plant. Leaves that are not bright green or show discoloration on the tips may indicate a root bound plant or a plant that is weak or stressed. If you find this you should choose another plant. Next you should look at the midrib vein in the leaf. If the upper side of the leaf shows a mottled appearance or if you can see little bugs, the plant may have spider mites or aphids. Again, choose another plant. If the leaves have spots either raised or sunken with a dark halo around the outer edges, then the plant has a fungal disease.
 
Fungal diseases can easily be spread to other plants in the landscape so do not choose these either. Being aware of these different problems on plants can help you make better plant selections. If the plant does not look right then something is wrong. Read the guides I have mentioned above and make selections for your landscape with plants that are tried and true. Use the right plant in the right place and your plants will respond to your care. If you follow these few simple guidelines I have set forth, then you will have a landscape you can be proud of and you will not have to keep replacing your plants every few months. I should mention that even these guides are not all inclusive. I am sure there are other plants that may work for your garden but at least this is a good starting place. Thank you for your support and remember, without plants we wouldn’t be here

           

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