It’s May, the month when shoppers from coast to coast are packing the garden centers which have been transformed in a matter of weeks from sleepy stores to bustling businesses.
The once empty shelves are stocked with flats of annual flowers, and the aisles are lined with flowering shrubs of all colors and types. Baskets brimming with blooms hang from the rafters. The lines for checking out stretch back through aisles of tools, seeds, and fertilizer.
Some people arrive at the garden center in a bit of panic, having given themselves just a few hours, or even minutes, to buy a few packs of flowers to put in a big pot on the front porch before they dash off to their kid’s next softball game.
Others arrive with a vague notion they should be buying some plants now, because everyone else is buying them, but they really have no idea which plants they want. They look like bewildered tourists who have been left alone in a foreign land where they don’t know the language.
On Mother’s Day weekend, frantic sons and daughters show up, often with their moms, and head straight toward the hanging baskets. The bigger the better! No expense should be spared when it comes to a hanging basket for their mom, and even better if it already has a tag, “To Mom, With Love.”
Who is missing from this spring onslaught of the garden centers? The most experienced gardeners are nowhere to be found, especially on the busy weekend days. Why? Perhaps because they long ago figured out how to navigate through the garden centers in the spring time, to make the most of the experience, and to come out with plants they love and plants which will grow well in their gardens.
If you feel lost in the garden centers or dread the spring crowds, here are some tips to turn your dread into delight.
1 Try to shop when there are fewer people in the garden centers.
This may mean avoiding shopping on the weekends, or if you have to shop on the weekend, being there when they open. When there are fewer customers, the garden center employees have more time to answer questions.
2 If you are buying trees and shrubs or starting a garden from scratch, go with a plan in mind or in hand.
Trees and shrubs are expensive, and you will live with them for a long time, so choosing wisely helps ensure the investment of time and money pays off and provides the landscape or garden you want. Some garden centers offer garden design services for a modest fee or even for free if you buy the plants from them.
3 Don’t buy annuals in full-bloom.
The plants with the showiest blooms are often not the best plants to buy, as they may be at their peak and won’t last as long in your garden. Look for annuals with lots of buds.
If you do end up buying annual flowers in full bloom, once you get them home, pinch off the blooms, a technique called dead heading. The plants may look a bit sparse for a short time afterward, but the pinching back will encourage them to produce more blooms in the long-run. In fact, dead heading spent blooms will force the annuals to keep blooming all summer long.
4 Check out the perennial flowers in addition to the annuals.
Annual flowers grow, flower, set seed, and die in one growing season. The next year, you have to buy them again. Perennial flowers bloom, die back to the roots in the winter or dry season, then return and bloom the next year and for several years thereafter. Though they aren’t completely maintenance free, perennials at least don’t have to be re-purchased every year.
5 Avoid buying plants which looked diseased, have broken branches or are wilted due to lack of water.
The garden center staff may have marked them down for a quick sale, but the plants may not recover or may be slow to recover. Invest in healthy, well-cared for plants.
6 If you are a new gardener or an experienced gardener in a new climate, ask an experienced gardener to go with you to the garden center.
Most gardeners are happy to be asked and are willing to help new gardeners make good plant choices for their climate and growing conditions. Just plan on going when it isn’t too busy.
7 Finally, take your time and go back a couple of times.
New plants arrive in the garden centers every week in the spring, so if you don’t find anything you want to plant in your garden one week, you may find something another week.
Remember, you don’t have to plant your garden all in one day. Enjoy and savor the experience.
Carol Michel is an avid gardener with a degree in horticulture. She was recently awarded a “2014 Garden Writers Association Silver Award of Achievement for eNewsletter Articles.” Contact – Website – Facebook – Twitter – LinkedIn
Photo Credit – khunaspix