By C. Rae Hozer
Warm, sunny days in April and May draw gardeners to local nurseries and garden centers like moths to a flame. If gardening is your passion, shopping for plants to add to your home landscape is a good thing.
Select healthy plants. Do not buy trees or shrubs with broken or damaged branches or with trunk injuries. Look for well-formed leaves having good color. Reject plants with yellowed, spotted, limp-looking or shriveled foliage. Pass up specimens with insect problems. Don’t buy plants that are root-bound. If you check the roots, they should be white or cream-colored, not black or slimy looking. Choose shorter, stocky plants rather than tall, spindly ones.
Be sure to match plant tag recommendations for individual plants to conditions in your yard. After confirming a plant’s health and hardiness, available sunlight is the next thing to consider. Be aware that time of day (morning or afternoon) during which a planting site gets direct sun is very important.
Sun Exposure Terminology
Full Sun means 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. Morning sun is milder. Afternoon sun may scorch sensitive plants.
Part Sun or Part Shade Place transplants with this exposure rating where they will receive less than 6 hours of sun. Shade plants perform best in locations with direct sunlight in morning only. Filtered or dappled shade all day is okay.
Full Shade means little direct sun exposure. Most (but not all) shade-loving plants need moist, fertile soil in combination with minimal sun. Shade near trees can be a problem because tree roots tend to grab most of the soil’s nutrients and available water.
Of course, it can be perilous to your pocketbook to buy many more transplants than can be set out within a day or two of their purchase. Plants recently brought outdoors from a commercial greenhouse where they got their start and/or from indoor seed starting areas under grow lights in your home are tender. They need 5 to 7 days exposure to natural conditions like cooler nighttime temperatures to help them to adapt (harden off). Yet during that acclimation period plants also require protection from extreme temperature shifts- frosts, freezes, as well as clear days when afternoon sun is intensely hot. Heat and drought stress can wilt young greenery to the extent those plants can not recover. Don’t let your purchases dry out. Water them. Provide shelter from sun and drying breezes.
Many an avid gardener has stories to tell about plants lost to drying winds, scalding sun, soaking rains or woodland animals while waiting for transplant. This Plateau gardener is no exception. I remember buying flowering ornamentals late one afternoon years ago with plans to create a couple mixed container gardens with them the following day. I recognized the need to store my purchases in a sheltered spot protected from sunlight and wind. I set them at the base of tall trees at the edge of the woods near my garage. I watered them well and went into the house for the night.
The summer after we built our Tennessee home a bunch of bunnies with squatters’ rights to the property taught me the only way my family would taste homegrown food crops was by my erecting a barrier fence around the vegetable plot and strawberry patch. Unfortunately, I soon forgot about those pesky rabbits once they weren’t a threat to my veggies. The next morning a number of my newly purchased potted plants no longer had leaves and flowers — only bare stems remained after a stealth rabbit attack.
Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for those tending home landscapes and gardens in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region. UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (484-6743) has answers for horticulture questions, free publications and details on how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard and garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae, firstname.lastname@example.org.