Let's Go Shopping!

Let's Go Shopping!

Part of Ep. 1002 Spring Games

Examine plants before you buy!  Milwaukee County Commercial Horticulture Agent Lisa Johnson explains what to look for and what to avoid.

Premiere date: May 22, 2002

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
By now, you probably have a really long list of trees and shrubs that you want to purchase. I know I do. But before you go shopping, we want to give you some tips to ensure the plants you buy will live long and prosper. I'm with Milwaukee County Commercial Horticulture Agent Lisa Johnson. We're at the UW-Madison Arboretum for a pretend shopping trip. I wish this was a real shopping trip, Lisa, I love shopping. I have to admit, though, I'm an impulse buyer. I'll see a tree or shrub in class and I want it now. So, I need your help in two ways. Help control me, and stop my impulses, and make sure that I'm getting the most for my money.

Lisa:
Well, Shelley, I'm not sure that I can control your buying, but I can give you some pretty good advice for buying trees and shrubs. The first thing to do is to shop at a reputable nursery, because you can be pretty sure, then, that the plants have been well cared for and you're getting a healthy plant. And then, you want to start inspecting the plant. A good place to start is at the ground level, looking at the soil.

Shelley:
You actually take it out of the pot?

Lisa:
Yes, you can take it out of the pot. It's a good idea.

Shelley:
Gently, I assume.

Lisa:
Yes, very gently. Make sure that you look at the root system. This is a good, healthy root system. But you'll notice that the soil is very dry. So, this plant is a little under stress, then, because it's dry.

Shelley:
So, maybe it wasn't taken care of as well as we'd like it to be. Look for something a little bit more moist?

Lisa:
Yes. The other thing is that this is a very light soil. That means you're going to have to remember to water it a little more often than a plant that's in a heavier soil.

Shelley:
Can we avoid buying light soil? I see this a lot, it seems like.

Lisa:
Yeah, it's really hard to avoid this. They plant in a light mix so that it's easier to ship and easier to work with.

Shelley:
So, the best thing to do when I get it home, is take better care of it.

Lisa:
That's right. Water it thoroughly when you plant it.

Shelley:
At least an inch of water per week is usual?

Lisa:
Mm-hmm. And also, you might want to mulch the plant.

Shelley:
Okay. Then, what about this one?

Lisa:
Well, you'll notice here that there are some roots coming through the bottom of the pot. That's a pretty good clue that your plant is root bound. And that can be a problem. You can see here that the roots, although they're healthy roots, they're very crowded. And they're starting to circle around each other. And that can cause problems.

Shelley:
So, these are root bound, where they've actually just started to spiral back.

Lisa:
And in fact, if you want to see a really good example of what can happen when you have plants where the roots are circling each other, we have here some roots that are what we call girdling roots. They are starting to actually strangle each other. That will cause a big problem.

Shelley:
When it gets this root bound, it's choking itself.

Lisa:
That's right.

Shelley:
So, we don't want to buy a plant that's doing this.

Lisa:
Another reason you don't want to buy this particular plant is because this is a Tall Hedge Columnar Buckthorn, which is an invasive species.

Shelley:
So, bad plant.

Lisa:
Bad plant. Definitely do not buy this plant.

Shelley:
All right. What's wrong with this one?

Lisa:
Well, that one is lacking a few roots. It's either got a root rot disease, possibly rodent damage. Another possibility is that it just hasn't been in the pot long enough to get established.

Shelley:
Okay, so we want something halfway between this and girdling itself.

Lisa:
Right.

Shelley:
Okay. Let's take a look at this one. This one's pretty light. Any problems with this one?

Lisa:
Well, you've got a nice, healthy top. However, the root system is much too small to sustain this massive leaf tissue and branches. So, this is a big problem. You want to make sure that the size of the pot is proportional to the size of the plant.

Shelley:
So, two, three, four times bigger than this?

Lisa:
Mm-hmm. At least a three or a five gallon pot for this size plant.

Shelley:
Now, you keep telling me that these are under stress. I assume, then, that that's a problem when we're planting.

Lisa:
That's right. If a plant is under stress, it's a lot more vulnerable to insects and diseases. And in fact, this plant, not only does it have the root system problem, but it's got some damage here, and that can be an avenue for insects to get in.

Shelley:
And then, I assume something even like the broken branch is a sign that it's not happy.

Lisa:
Right.

Shelley:
And it's going to go into stress just from us planting it, so we don't want to add to that stress. Okay. Well, you mentioned insects. I don't think of those as a problem, usually, in a nursery. But it sounds like we should be inspecting for that, too.

Lisa:
It's a good idea. This plant, for instance, you can see that it has some castoff skins, probably from aphids. And the leaf is sticky, so you can tell that a sucking insect has been attacking it. It's a good idea to check under the leaves, too, because a lot of insects hide under leaves.

Shelley:
So, we inspect for roots, for good soil, general overall health. And then, once I've found the perfect thing, I can go and take it home.

Lisa:
Well, maybe not. You want to make sure that you're planting the right plant in the right place. And so, you should go to a nursery with the following things in mind. What's the soil like? Is there a lot of sun? Is there a lot of shade? Are there power lines overhead? That sort of thing. That's exactly what the nursery people are going to ask you when you ask questions about a plant.

Shelley:
So, no more impulse buying because I'm really harming my self and my trees and shrubs in the long run.

Lisa:
That's right.

Shelley:
Okay, thanks, Lisa. And we have more information for you on our Web site.

Shelley:
I love shopping for new plants. So, I really enjoyed learning how to become a better shopper. Now, I have to admit, my husband isn't nearly so thrilled when I come home with more trees, more shrubs and more perennials. He says we're out of room, and that we'd need a bigger yard to plant everything that I want to grow. So, I was thinking, maybe I should go shopping for a bigger yard. That ought to make him happy!

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