SUNDAY GARDENING – Inspect The Garden Center Before Buying Plants

Contributed By Martha Plousos

Walking through greenhouses and houseplant sections of stores can be very pleasant. Or it can be very unpleasant. It all depends on where you go and how well-maintained the indoor plant section is. Don’t throw caution to the wind and rush out to purchase new plants without being prepared to scrutinize the garden center. Unless you want to bring home some six-legged (or eight-legged), winged or wingless critters that will fly, hop, crawl, march or walk their way over to every other plant growing happily (pest-free) in your home, you should inspect, inspect, inspect where you buy your plants. If you don’t, there is a chance that you’ll spend several weeks (sometimes months) trying to eradicate the buzzing, whizzing, gliding, whirling or burrowing taking place in, on, over, under and around your plants. Infestations from unwanted stowaways are not what anyone ever bargains for.

Houseplants are mass produced and grown in commercial greenhouses. Once they’re ready for the market, they are shipped to various sellers – including your local big box stores and local hardware stores with garden centers attached to them. Newly-arrived plants are generally in great condition and virtually pest-free, having just left the ideal environment of the greenhouse where they were raised. It’s only after they arrive at their destination that their health begins to decline if their new home does not provide the proper care required to sustain them. And this is what you will check – if the growing conditions and overall appearance of the seller are satisfactory.

10 Ways To Determine Whether To Buy Or Flee:

1. When you arrive at the greenhouse, stand at the entrance, take a broad look around and let your eyes soak in as much of the store as possible in one viewing. Does it look inviting or off-putting?
A well-maintained greenhouse is very welcoming with its aesthetical and visually-pleasing presentation. If you feel reluctant to walk in, don’t. An unappealing greenhouse is usually not maintained properly, which in turn invites problems to the health of the greenery it houses. Pay attention to your senses.
2. Scan all the plants roughly across the store before you stroll in. Do they look healthy or tired?
Even before you venture deeper inside, you’ll get an overall feeling of the plants being sold. Tired plants look unhealthy even from a distance. And tired plants are not what you want to take home with you. These are signs of neglect.
3. Head inside and take a leisurely walk up and down the aisles? Is the ground dirt-free and tidy? Is there debris, leaves, plants, dead insects, broken pots, soil or litter lying about?
Cleanliness is very important. An untidy greenhouse is an invitation to pests and disease. If the staff/owner/management doesn’t care about the cleanliness of something as immediately obvious to the customers as the path they walk on, why would they place any effort on tasks that aren’t always as obvious?
4. Check shelves, benches, racks, stools – anywhere where plants sit. Are they clean and organized? Are they dirty, rotted, wet or unkempt?
Even if the floors are swept free of grime, a greenhouse won’t pass the white-glove test if the spots occupied by plants are filthy. The immediate surroundings of plants, especially surfaces that they come into contact with, should be just as sanitary and free of invitations to problems – fallen leaves and spent blooms.

5. Do the plants in general look very healthy when you get up close and personal?
Even if a specific plant that appeals to you looks fit, take a good look around at all the vegetation in that particular section. If the bulk of the neighboring plants are substandard, it’s a clear indication of neglect. The vast majority of plants in a properly managed greenhouse should be healthy. Any ailing specimens should be isolated and nursed back to health or discarded if they’re beyond saving. Weak plants are magnets for insects and disease and should never be left amid healthy specimens.

6. Is there an ample selection of assorted plants or a sparse one of common choices?
A greenhouse nurturing a wide variety of plants with diverse and sometimes challenging needs requires more experienced staff as well as essential equipment to keep the living green in tip top shape. Any place willing to put that type of investment and effort into proper maintenance is serious about selling healthy plants and building a solid reputation.

7. Are there ceiling fans running? Is there any air circulation?
In greenhouses, fans or some type of ventilation should be in operation continuously to keep the air from becoming stagnant. Dead air is a popular breeding ground for insects as well as certain diseases. Fresh air is a constant requisite in keeping both evils at bay.

8. Take a whiff of the surrounding air. Is it pleasant or offensive?
A clean greenhouse full of well-managed plants that are in peak condition should exude that rich, earthy scent, especially if the plants were recently watered. The rich fragrance of healthy soil should be permeating the air, not offensive odors that belong to filthiness, rot, mold, disease or treatments for pest control.

9. Head over to the plants on sale to check their condition. Are they healthy or ready for the trash bin?
Plants on sale are one thing. Dying plants on sale are another. Garden centers frequently offer substantially lower prices on certain specimens to liquidate them. These plants are typically discounted to make room for new stock, but they should be in good shape. A professional garden center concentrates on upholding their first-rate reputation by offering only quality plants, not abused ones for a quick profit. A discount rack is good business. A death row rack isn’t.

10. Are there bugs flying, floating, buzzing, walking, crawling or whirling around the plants? Have you noticed any yellow sticky strips or other insect traps inside pots or around the plants?
It’s next to impossible to permanently eliminate insects when it comes to houseplants. Even when houseplants are grown in favorable settings, pests can be lurking in small, unnoticeable numbers for long periods, biding their time until ideal conditions arise to cause a population explosion. Although you are always at risk of taking home pests along with a new plant, a good garden center will do whatever is necessary to give you better odds at a pest-free plant. If you can clearly see insects that are usually prone to hiding, you are in a greenhouse with a massive infestation that is severely out of control due to negligence. Head for the hills or you will get flies with that new plant! Guaranteed.

Editor’s Note: The above information provides a few simple guidelines to help you choose a decent place to shop for plants. There’s really no need for a step-by-step process; most of the time we determine the quality of a vendor as soon as we step through the door without even realizing that we’re doing it. Our senses are always alerting us to the situation of our surroundings. When you walk into that greenhouse or garden center, you will know if it’s worth your time – and money. If you get that warm and fuzzy feeling, take a leisurely stroll through the plants. If the place gives you the creeps, head for the competition instead.

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