Buying Healthy Plants

Buying Healthy Plants

Houseplants have become so very much a part of our everyday life that they are now available from all sorts of retail outlets, florists’ shops, garden centres, specialist plant shops, supermarkets and even motorway service stations. It is difficult to say which is the best place to buy your plants. Much depends on what type of plant you wish to purchase and for what reason. One general piece of advice is to make sure the shop cares properly for the plants it is selling and maintains its stocks in a healthy condition.

Where to buy

Supermarkets and motorway shops often have a limited range of inexpensive plants. They depend on a fast turnover to keep their stocks in good condition. Garden centres, florists and specialist plant shops are certainly better for the more unusual plants and especially for larger and more showy specimens. It is here that you would expect to find not only a wider range of varieties but also a considerably greater choice of individual specimens.

Market stalls

Be very careful about buying plants from a stall in a market, especially in winter. The effects of a touch of cold may not be apparent until your new purchase is at home in the warm. Although not all stall-holders are unreliable, some are able to offer apparent bargains because they clear wholesale markets of the leftovers, or crop remnants, some of which may be unfortunately far from perfect.

How to choose

It is important to have an idea of where you are going to put your plant before you buy it. Otherwise you may choose a lovely specimen for which you can find no suitable place. If you plant is for a windowsill, then you don’t want a fern. If it is for a dark corner, then a colourful flowering plant won’t do. Think about a plant’s heat, light and air requirements carefully.

Avoid difficult plants

If you are a beginner in collecting plants, don’t be tempted into the realms of gardenias, stephanotis or other exotics. There is nothing worse than watching a plant die before your eyes and not knowingwhy. Unfortunately, the more exotic a plant looks, the more difficult it is to look after. Many variegated and brightly coloured plants, such ascaladium, codiaeum, begonia rex and maranta, may take a little getting used to. It is best to stick to all green plants to start off with. If you have success with these, you can then try your hand with their variegated relations. If the label on your plant says F. hybrid, this means it has been grown from two dissimilar parents. It will be vigorous and showy, but you will not have any success trying to propagate it by seed, because it will not breed true. Another point worth mentioning is that it is better to avoid oddities, like Venus fly traps, which are generally sold dormant. They will rarely grow into the splendid plants shown on the packaging.

Asking for help

One other piece of advice about buying plants: don’t be afraid to ask for help from the assistants. This is where the specialist shops should beableto helpyou more than the supermarkets or market stalls. A lot of growers now label plants not only with their botanical and common names but also with simple and useful hints about how to care for your plant. If you are worried about the way your plant is or isn’t growing, don’t be afraid to go back to the shop or nursery; notto complain, but to ask for advice. Do so before the trouble has gone too far, so that there is time to correct the fault, if there is one.

Examining the plant

Once you have decided on the variety you want to buy, it is time to examine individual specimens. The pot should be clean and unbroken, and the compost on top should be fresh and not covered with moss or sprouting weeds. The plant itself should be growing firmly in the centre of the pot and, where necessary, should be securely staked. The stem should be straightand unmarked, leavesclean, smooth, shiny, untorn and healthy. If it appears that

some of the leaf tips have been cut off, ask why. Some varieties (like some palms) cannot help making brown tips, and these may have been removed for cosmetic reasons. Lastly, as already mentioned, the plant should be named and preferably have growing instructions. And this may seem as if finding a sound plant to buy is very hard work. With a little practice you will soon be able to tell good plants from bad. Pick up your specimen, examine it carefully, and think if it will look right in the place you have in mind. Avoid dusty, dirty specimens with a missing leaf that have obviously been on the shelves a week or so too long.

Taking your plant home

The next important thing is to get your purchase home safely, especially if you are buying it in the winter time. Insist that it is correctly wrapped up, if necessary with a double layer of paper. If it is cold, the top of the paper should be fastened over securely. If the plant looks tender or the stems appear too weak, ask for an extra cane to support it so that it is not damaged in transit. Special care should be taken in moving large plants, as a broken leaf or growing tip can spoil an expensive purchase.

Moving house

Another time to give a lot of consideration to your plants is when you are moving house. Often they are put into the back of the removal van with no particular attention at all. All plants, especially large specimens, become acclimatized to one position or room and react badly to being moved. A little care and forethought can keep treasured plants in good health and help them to adapt quickly to their new environment. If possible, place all your plants together in one room a day or so before you move. Believe it or not, they benefit from being close to each other. Then pack them carefully by tying up loose leaves, stems and branches and wrapping the plants in paper or polythene. Pack them in easily transportable cardboard boxes or tea chests, and see that they are loaded into the removal van away from the cold. Unpack them as soon as possible after arrival, and put them together in a warm room before moving them to their permanent positions.

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