Gardening: Take care when making plant purchases

After a cold February, the longer sunny days and warmer weather triggers people’s desire to be outside. With spring comes new growth and often the desire to buy and plant. Seed racks and catalogues have been available for a while. Making seed purchases early is practical as often the popular varieties become hard to find.

Big Box stores rarely have much say on when their stock arrives or what varieties they receive. As spring tends to come later to the Prairies than other provinces, the plants and plant material arrive before they can be planted out.

Purchasing live material early is only practical if the plant can be stored or cared for until it is time to place them outside.

Before placing any living plant in the shopping basket examine it closely. With bare roots, tubers, bulbs or corms, look at the roots? They should be firm and plump. If the packages have been stored in a warm area, there is a good chance that they are starting to, or have broken dormancy which means that there will be green or greenish yellow buds or shoots.

All new growth should be firm not wilted. Once a plant breaks dormancy it must be potted and have access to moisture, nutrients and sunlight. Plants that break dormancy and start to grow in their package are depleting the supply of nutrients that they have stored in their roots. If the plants cannot replenish their moisture or nutrients they become weak and die.

If the product has only been exposed to the not been warmth for a short period of time, the plant might not have broken dormancy. When this is the case, take the plant packages home and store them in a cool location. Be sure to check them regularly and be prepared to pot them up if they are starting to grow.

As the season progresses more bare rooted plants will be offered for sale. Roses, raspberries, rhubarb, asparagus and horse radish are a few of the plants that will be sold in solid plastic or paper packages. Treat them in the same manner. If it is too early to plant or they do not look healthy, leave them in the store.

Good deals and great prices are obliterated by dead plants.

At the end of April the beginning of May bare rooted plants will be sold by larger nurseries and garden centers. These plants are kept in cold storage and brought out a few at a time or once they are sold.

Traditionally, hedging material is sold as bare root stock. The plants are often smaller and sold in bundles of 10. The cost of hedging material is less as it has spent less time in the field and it does not get potted up.

Bare rooted plants are only available for a short period of time. Once they start breaking dormancy, the plants are potted up and sold as potted plants.

Nurseries that either sell trees, shrubs or perennials online or through catalogues wrap dormant plant roots in moist moss and ship live materials, the quickest way possible. Typically, the plants arrive in a couple days long before the plants show any sign of turning green. Shipping bare rooted plants is much more economical as the weight of the soil is removed from the freight cost.

Before purchasing bare rooted plants, have a spot prepared to allow for quick planting.

Enjoy looking at the tempting plants in stores but take care when making plant purchases before they can be planted outside.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at

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