How to Choose the Best Plants for Mother’s Day
This Mother’s Day, choose a plant gift that will last longer than a week.
Check carefully for flowers, healthy roots, and signs of pests and diseases to ensure success.
It is popular to give flowering plants as a gift for Mother’s Day or other special occasions. Many people hope that a living plant will last longer than the equivalent bouquet. However, buying attractive plants from nurseries and garden centres may be no guarantee of longevity. Plants are expensive and getting the best specimen possible can be tricky. Choosing the right plant is essential.
Choosing Flowering Plants
Ah, sweet temptation… Nurseries and garden centres strategically place plants in full bloom to attract buyers, and few can resist. Although plants that are flowering prolifically are attractive, remember that they will quickly be past their best once planted out.
They may have been forced under glass and could be more susceptible to cold, diseases, and pests. Choose a specimen that is yet to flower or that only has a couple of flowers open. Try to get value for money; rifle through the display and choose a multi-stemmed plant that has plenty of flower spikes.
Also, check when the natural flowering period of the plant is. If there is a fuchsia flowering in February or alliums almost open in March, they will have been forced on and may not be hardy planted out into the garden.
Spotting a Good Root System
Another trick played by garden centres and nurseries is to plant up a young plant into a larger pot. Many specimens are sold by pot size, so a bigger pot may mean a more expensive plant. It could mean that the plant has poor root development and that the soil will all fall off when it is removed from the pot for transplanting.
Check the size of the pot and compare it to the plant. Is the plant tall and thin? It may have been a poor specimen that has been deprived of light. Choose a bushy plant instead. How does the surface of the soil look? Is it new, fresh, with no moss or algae present?
If so, gently remove the plant from the pot and see if there are any roots visible. There should be a fine network of white roots distributed well through the soil. If there are no roots visible, put the plant back or buy it; if the price is reasonable and it is a healthy, bushy plant but leave it in the container for a season until the roots have established into the new soil.
Sometimes the opposite problem can occur when a plant has been neglected or unloved. It may have been left to grow in the pot too long, and the roots will have begun to curl around the inside of the pot. If it is possible, gently remove the plant from the pot and check the extent of the root constriction. If the roots are thick, brown and spiralled, put the plant back and walk away.
Also, if plants have rooted out of the pot and into the surrounding soil, leave them behind. The plant needs a network of well-developed, fine, fibrous roots to do well when it is planted. The fine roots are the best at extracting minerals and nutrients from the soil and, of course, water. A plant with thick spiralled roots will often not put out enough of a root system to establish well. If the pot-bound plant is the last one and must be given a new home, slice through the spiralled roots with a sharp, clean knife and ease them apart. This will encourage new roots to form, and the plant will stand a better chance of survival.
Tip the plant gently out of the pot. Are there any holes in the root system? Are there any fat, white grubs wriggling around? They are probably vine weevil grubs, the bane of many container nurseries. Don’t buy the plant – it may have already suffered too much root damage. Don’t risk introducing the vine weevil infestation to the other containers in the garden.
They can be controlled with a chemical that is watered, so it isn’t the end of the world, but buying a healthy plant in the first place and finding a nursery that has non-infested stock would be much easier.
Slugs and snails can also do serious root damage, burrowing in down the side of the plant and eating the tasty roots. Look out for clusters of transparent, slimy eggs. If they can be removed easily, scrape them out. Check the plant over – if the damage isn’t too severe, buy it.
Plants with many dead leaves, sickly growth, rot, etc. should be avoided. Look out for mildew on annuals such as bedding plants. Black, soggy areas at the base of the stem can mean that the plant will die shortly from Fusarium wilt. Don’t buy any plants in the vicinity of those infected.
These are just a few of the things that can help successful plant establishment after purchasing. Don’t be afraid to check plants thoroughly. Choose wisely, and hopefully, this year’s Mother’s Day gift will still be around next year too.