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DALY: Purchase healthy plants to avoid problems in the landscape

One of the most important components of successfully establishing plants in the landscape is to purchase healthy ones. Sometimes nursery plants have serious problems that can drastically reduce their overall attractiveness and performance. Carefully examine all plant parts, both above and below ground, to make sure the plant material is of high quality.

When visiting a nursery, observe the general health and appearance of all of the plants, in addition to the specific ones you want to buy. They should be healthy, well watered, and free of pest problems. If any are wilted, diseased, infested with insects or anything else that does not appear right consider finding another source. The plants should have labels on or near them clearly identifying the species and the cultivar.

Clean, healthy, and lush foliage with excellent color is a sign of healthy plants. Leaf spots, burning on the edges of the leaves, yellowing, and wilting may be indications of a multitude of problems. Often, these problems are difficult to observe so examine parts of the plant thoroughly. Carefully inspect the leaves, especially their undersides, the stems, flowers, and the root system for signs of potential pest infestations. Doing so will reduce the likelihood of introducing pests into your landscape that could potentially spread to the other plants. Also, avoid any containers or balled and burlapped trees that have weeds growing out of them.

In container plants, pull the plants out and examine the roots. The condition of the root system is one of the most important factors in determining the overall health of the plant, the success of transplanting and the ability of it adapting to the new site. Poor quality roots reduce the ability of the plant to survive in the landscape after installing it.

Healthy roots have a white to light brown color. The plant is most likely suffering from some type of root rot or damage if they are black and mushy, or non-existent. If you observe masses of roots packed into the rootball, or if the roots are growing out of the bottom, then plants have become pot bound and should not be purchased. Additionally, the container planting medium should be moist, not dry or overly wet.

Selecting healthy, high quality plants at the nursery prior to purchasing and planting is the most important component to having attractive landscape plants. By carefully examining the plants for the previously described problems will help prevent future problems. Cheap plant material may not necessarily be the best. Paying a little extra for good material free of any maladies will ultimately save money in the long run and help guarantee a beautiful landscape.

Timothy Daly is Agricultural and Natural Resource Agent with the Gwinnett County Cooperative Extension. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.