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By Lyn Chimera

Most of us buy at least a few plants every spring, some of us more than others. No matter if you buy one plant or dozens, there are some factors to keep in mind. Remember the old adage, “Right plant, right place?” It really is important!

First of all, know where the plant will be growing. This is a much ignored but most important detail. For example, how much sun will that spot get? Plant tags will indicate whether that plant needs full sun, part sun, or shade. This is usually indicated by an icon of a sun that is full shaded, half shaded, or all shaded. If you’re not sure how much sun you have, pay attention over the course of a few days by checking in the morning, at mid-day, and in the afternoon. Full sun means at least six hours of direct sun, part sun is three to six hours, and shade is less than three hours. There is also “dappled light” which means some sunlight gets through under deciduous trees but this type of area is usually quite shady. If a plant is not getting the light conditions it needs, you will notice lack of bloom, stunted, or tall (leggy) growth.

Plant tags will also indicate the final size of the plant both height and width. This is important for obvious reasons. We have all seen cute little shrubs planted under windows that eventually cover the window and need constant pruning to keep the size in check or the tree planted at the corner of the house that is now growing into the roof and gutters. The same applies for perennials. If the space you have is one square foot, check the tag to see if the chosen plant will fit. Height matters too. If you want a plant for the front or back of the garden or in a container, the final height is crucial.

Another detail people tend to ignore when buying perennials that bloom is when the plant will bloom. People have a tendency to buy plants in bloom which leads to having spring and summer blooms with not much color in late summer and into fall. If you want blooms all season, buy early, mid, and late summer bloomers.

Of course, look for plants that are healthy to start. Check for insects that may be hiding under the leaves or discolored leaves. You can even check the roots to see if they are healthy looking. Whenever possible, buy disease resistant plants. For example, buy phlox that is resistant to powdery mildew.

Once you have purchased appropriate plant material, you have to take care of the plant to assure healthy growth. The planting hole is more important than many people realize. Remember, you don’t want to put a $10 plant in a $1 hole. The hole should be just as deep as the plant root mass and two to three times as wide. If the hole is too deep, the loose soil under the plant will eventually cause the plant to sink below the soil level which can cause rot. The reason the hole should be so wide is that most roots grow out and you want to provide nice, loose soil for the roots to grow into. The last step is to add about 1/3 compost to the hole and mix it with the existing soil. This will give the plant a healthy start.

When you remove the plant from its pot and the roots are circling around in the same shape as the pot, use your fingers to tease out the roots. If they are densely compacted, you can even use a knife to cut through some of them. This will enable the plant’s roots to grow outward instead of staying in a circling form. Watering is the next key. During the first season, plants should be kept well-watered.

Local Garden Club and organization Perennial Sales are great places to get low priced, healthy plants. My Lessons from Nature Perennial Sale will be Saturday, May 20th from 9AM—2PM at 170 Pine Street in E. Aurora. I specialize in natives but have a large selection of perennials for sun and shade. Ellen Fultz, from Amanda’s Garden, will also be there with her self-propagated natives. Between us, we will have the largest selection of native plants in WNY. I will also have a selection of hypertufa planters, birdbaths, and stepping stones. There’s something for everyone.

Two other perennial sales of note are the Master Gardener Perennial Sale on Friday, May 26th from 8:30AM—3PM & Saturday, May 27th from 8:30AM—2PM at the First Presbyterian Church across from Kleinhan’s in Buffalo and the East Aurora Garden Club Perennial Sale on Saturday, May 27th from 8:30AM until they sell out at the Grey Street Plaza in front of TJ Maxx. Hope to see you at one of those sales!