Spring is here and the annual trip to the nursery is soon to come. I also make that annual pilgrimage, along with several other trips during the year. Even with 50 years of experience, I still rely on a backup of information for plants that might be new to me.
My backup is my smart phone. When I owned my nurseries, I was a stickler for proper signage to help the customer make informed decisions on plant purchases. I admit that the information given was way short of the information needed to make a plant purchase in most cases.
When you plant annual flowers in the spring and fall, what you see at the nursery is very close to the final plant you will have. Furthermore, the plant is only going to last about six months, so if you make a mistake you won’t spend much money on your mistake. Most perennials take about three years to mature. Shrubs can take a decade or more to mature, and trees can take even longer before you begin to realize that you have made a bad mistake. When buying shrubs and trees you are making a long-term investment, so do your homework! Google it and believe what you Googled! The only exception is that in our high desert many plants never get as large as the data tells you. There are several things that you need to know that the nursery tag may not tell you. Here are some of those things.
Maximum height and maximum width are obvious things you need to know. Is it a perennial that needs to be cut back severely in early spring? If so, how much? If it’s an evergreen, how low of a temperature can it take? Can it take full sun, does it need shade or can it do well in morning sun with some shade in the afternoon?
Is it prone to insect or fungus in the desert? Many plants have terrible insect and disease problems in the humid weather out east but can do very well in our dry desert, like roses and crape myrtles. Read garden blogs and you’ll get more honest information on any problems the plant has.
That’s why I almost never buy a plant that I am unfamiliar with unless I’ve “Googled it.”
My final mantra is “If you want a plant that only grows three feet tall, buy a plant that only gets three feet tall!” If you buy a photinia (because it is so red in the spring) to put under a ground-floor window and ignore the fact that, even in the desert, it can easily grow to 12 feet or more, you are unknowingly saying, “I want to trim this plant a couple of times a year for the rest of my natural life instead of just buying a plant that gets only three feet tall.”
Now go forth and purchase… but take your smart phone.
Mike Dooley is the designer and owner of Dooley Landscape Designs. Visit his website dooleylandscapedesigns.com.