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Administrative Associate, Urban Region
University of Missouri Extension
Published: Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Pat Miller, 417-448-2560
BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. — Are you overwhelmed when you go the plant nursery?
“There are so many plants to pick from, gorgeous colors and interesting textures. But you’ve been through this in years past and the results weren’t that great when the plants got home,” says Pat Miller, University of Missouri Extension agronomy specialist.
Miller offers some plant shopping tips to help you get better results.
Be realistic about your time commitment
“Container plants don’t need weeding and are great for apartments and small homes, but they will probably need watering every day, sometimes twice a day, in the heat of summer,” Miller says. “If you will be gone for days at a time, do you have a trusted friend who will water for you?”
You can hedge the everyday watering a bit if you use drought-loving plants like succulents or cactus, she adds.
Miller also recommends starting small and seeing how it works for you before tackling something more ambitious.
“A small, well-tended garden will look better than a large, weedy bed,” she says.“If you’d much rather lounge on the patio than weed flowerbeds, a few containers may be your best bet.”
Start planning from the bottom up
The bottom of the pot, that is. “Make sure your pots are large enough to give the plant roots plenty of room throughout the season,” Miller says. Small pots full of roots will need lots of watering.
“Select a good-quality potting soil,” she says. “Cheap mixes that won’t hold water will dry out quickly.”
To prevent the other extreme, the pot should have a drainage hole to prevent the plants from drowning. “Roots need air to breathe and will drown in a flooded pot. A coffee filter works great to allow drainage while keeping the potting mix from washing out.”
Do your homework
“Selecting plants can be daunting,” Miller says. “Before you go to the nursery, make a list of your needs. How many pots do you have, or how big is the area? Is it full sun or shady? Is the garden spot boggy or drought-prone? What colors do you want?”
She notes that you can make a bigger impact with your plants if you stick to large splashes of one color. “Or consider using complementary colors like yellow and purple or orange and blue.”
Plan for how big the plant will get. One petunia will fill a medium pot before long, even if it looks sparse now.
It’s also important to read the plant labels. “If you have a large pot for a shady porch, make sure that all the plants in it are shade-loving and have similar watering needs. If you put full-sun plants in the shade, they won’t bloom well. Likewise, a shade-loving hosta will get burnt in full sun but will love a shady area under a tree.”
Talk to a pro
If you are still unsure of yourself, Miller recommends you take an experienced gardener with you, at least once. Or ask employees or customers who look confident.
“Most gardeners would enjoy sharing their knowledge with a novice,” she says. “They can suggest some of their favorites and dissuade you from potential mistakes.”
But most of all, she says, enjoy the experience. “Plants add enjoyment to our surroundings, and that is what it is all about.”
For more information, contact your local MU Extension center or download the free publication “Annual Flowers: Characteristics and Culture” at extension.missouri.edu/p/G6629.
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