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Wednesday, May 6, 2009 01:01 pm

Mother’s Day is for planting

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Ready, set, plant! Mother’s Day weekend is not only a time to recognize Mom for all she does, but it is time to plant warm-season plants. This weekend, why not combine the two and take Mom shopping for her favorite plants? Don’t forget that Mom will probably expect some help planting them.

Whether shopping for Mom or yourself, here are a few tips to help you get the most bang for your buck at the garden center.

It is a good idea to shop with a plan of what plants to purchase and how many are needed. Knowing what you want to buy and the growing conditions of the location will help you avoid impulse purchases. For many of us it is more important that we have a budget, because we can easily get carried away buying every beautiful flowering plant that we see.

All plants purchased should be healthy, stocky, disease-free and insect-free, with good roots. Inspect the underside of the leaves, as this is where many insects like to lay eggs. Avoid plants with yellow leaves (unless they’re supposed to be that color). Yellow or brown leaves are signs of insects, disease damage, lack of care, root damage or frost damage. Look for plants with new growth.

It is tempting to buy plants that are in full bloom. This is OK if you are buying a hanging basket or an already potted container. Plants that will be transplanted should not be in full bloom. Look for annual flowers that are just starting to bud out. Plants with no buds or few buds have less transplant shock than plants in full bloom.

Take time to read pot tags. They contain useful information about plant size at maturity, spacing, requirements for sun or shade and hardiness zone.

Most of us want instant gratification, but keep in mind that plants do grow. Many gardeners will opt for buying the biggest plant they can afford but if you are on a tight budget, it is OK to buy market packs. The key with market packs is patience. If planted, watered and fertilized properly, annual seedlings such as petunias will become full and lush in no time.

Plants are available for purchase almost everywhere, including grocery stores, hardware stores, department stores and garden centers. Prices may be cheaper at grocery stores and department stores, but plant selection and knowledge of the staff is sometimes limited. Garden centers tend to have more selection, plants that are better cared for and knowledgeable staff, but prices generally are higher.

If you will need advice from staff, visit during non-peak times such as during the work week, early or late in the day or on rainy days. The busiest plant shopping times are sunny weekend days during May.

If you are growing a vegetable garden for the first time, plan before you shop. What size is the garden? How much can you realistically plant in the allotted space? What does your family like to eat? Which vegetables will be purchased as plants and which will be purchased as seed?

Vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, pepper, sweet potato and tomato are best put in the garden as plants. Potatoes are grown from cut up seed potatoes and onions are usually grown from plants or sets. (It is getting late in the season to find potatoes and onions.) The rest of the vegetable crops are easily grown from seed. Last week, I was surprised to find individual green bean and corn plants for sale. I was even more shocked at the price of $3 per plant. A packet of 50 green bean seeds costs less than $3.

University of Illinois Extension offers a couple of great vegetable gardening Web sites. Tips to growing a successful vegetable garden can be found on Illinois Vegetable Garden Guide Web site, http://web.extension.uiuc.edu/ vegguide/. For information on growing, storing and preparing vegetables, visit Watch your Garden Grow, http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/.

Ready, set, let’s all plant this weekend.

Contact Jennifer Fishburn at fishburn@illinois.edu.

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