Buy good quality plants rather than unnamed, poor grade stock. Plants rarely fully recover from a poor start in life – check over the specimens you propose to buy, using the notes below as your guide. If you have to buy before you are ready to plant, keep the stock in a cool dark place. Do not disturb the soil, compost or peat around the roots but do keep it moist. If the delay is likely to be more than 3 or 4 days, heel in the plants in a shallow trench.

Container-grown Plants

Bad signs

Wilted leaves

Good signs

Clear labelling

Dense weed growth

Small weeds or green algal growth

Dry soil Split container

Thick root growing through base

A container-grown perennial is a plant which has been raised as a seedling or cutting and has then been potted on until it is housed in the whalehide, plastic or metal container on display. It should not have been lifted from the open ground and its roots plus surrounding soil stuffed into the container. Such lifted plants are sold and can give successful results, but they should neither be called nor be priced as container-grown plants. The true container-grown hardy perennial can be planted at any time of the year as long as the ground is neither frosty nor waterlogged. The most convenient of all the planting types, but also the most expensive.

Pot-grown Plants

Good signs

Clear labelling

Healthy and firm top-growth

A pot-grown specimen is a miniature version of the container-grown plant. It may be a mature rockery perennial or the juvenile form of a border perennial, annual or biennial. This is the best way to buy a rockery perennial, and it is generally more economical for border perennials than container-grown plants. It is the dearest way to buy annuals, but as there is no check after planting out the flowers are earlier and larger.

Bad signs

Long roots growing through drainage holes

Wilted leaves Dry soil


Make sure that the bulbs and corms you buy are firm at the base. They should not have started to grow and the surface should be mould-free. Large-sized bulbs- are usually the best choice, but buying a mixture of bulbs which you can growon is the more economical way of covering a large area. Outdoor Hyacinths should be the medium and not the large grade. It is of no importance if Tulips have lost their brown skins. The outer scales of Lily bulbs should be firm and succulent – do not buy bulbs if they are covered with withered scales.

Pre-packaged Plants

The pre-packaged perennial is the standard planting material sold by hardware shops, supermarkets and department stores; they are also available at garden centres. It is a bare-rooted plant with moist peat, sphagnum moss or compost around the roots and the whole plant housed inside a labelled polythene bag. Such plants are cheaper than their container-grown counterparts but there are drawbacks. You can’t see what you are buying and premature growth may begin in the warm conditions which occur in the shop. Planting time is the dormant season between autumn and spring.

Bad signs

Leaf buds beginning to open

Plant completely dormant

Shrivelled or diseased stems

Small white roots growing into the damp packing material Good signs

Lifted Plants

Small clumps and divisions of large clumps of perennials are sometimes lifted and placed in polythene bags for sale. The problem here is that some roots will have been broken during the transfer and so tap-rooted varieties may take a long time to become established in their new home.

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