When selecting a previously potted plant, avoid those with roots that have been bound and twisted by the pot.

Garden mania is hitting us full force. Often we go to the garden centers without a list, picking up plants because they look good. As Dr. Liz Riley, a Teaching Scholar at NCSU’s horticulture program explains, knowing how a plant was started tells us how to manage them in our garden. Dr. Riley offered some clues to help you chose that perfect plant.

Take a peek: Plants without a healthy root system are unhealthy plants. When possible, gently remove the plant from its container. You’re seeking healthy white roots that are branching out, preferably not circling the pot. Trees and shrubs can be especially vulnerable to root circling and breaking apart the roots may not correct the problem — it may do too much damage to the roots and the plant may be vulnerable to girdling later on. Above all, avoid dark and slimy roots.

How it was raised: Plants raised in an outdoor nursery are often grown in a pine bark mixture that drains easily. Typically, hardy herbaceous perennials, shrubs, trees, and grasses spend their childhood outdoors. But tender perennials, annuals and summer bedding plants are grown in a controlled environment. Growers, needing to retain moisture, typically use a peat-based formula.

When planting in our clay and rocky soils, gardeners need to adjust their plants’ watering needs. Keep in mind: Greenhouse produced plants may require more regular watering than those plants grown outdoors in nurseries.

Fertilizing: Growers usually give nursery-grown plants controlled-release fertilizers, which are in pellet or granular form, often visible on the soil’s surface. Greenhouse plants usually have nutrients delivered in liquid form via the irrigation system. To abruptly end the delivery of nutrients can stress a plant.

According to Dr. Riley, it’s fine to use a liquid fertilizer as soon as the plant begins to grow. Use this method with summer annuals and vegetables.

An alternative is to apply a half dosage of controlled-release fertilizer at the time of planting, continuing with a half dosage of liquid fertilizer once the plant is established. Go easy on the fertilizer with new plants as too much fertilizer can easily burn their root systems.

Right plant, right place: Knowing your soil and sun exposure before selecting plants will lessen problems later on. Many plants require well-draining soil. A rose wants all the sun it can get while hostas thrive in light but want to avoid the harsh afternoon summer sun. Ferns thrive in shade. Do your homework first!

Above all, do not settle for a plant that needs to be nursed back to good health — something we’ve all done.

Experimenting with plants is fun. As you make your purchases this season shop the pot — a plant’s future is there to see.

Editor’s note: The Absentee Gardeners is a new regular column in The Blowing Rocket. Written by Lise Jenkins and Kit Flynn, it will focus on seasonal aspects of starting and maintaining a flourishing garden.

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