Plant Buying Time

We talked a little bit on Friday about plant buying and weather. I threw in an off-hand comment that in my experience garden centers will often get in plants 2-3 weeks before it’s safe to set them out or in the ground.

That may have made some of you indignant, thinking that the retailers were setting you up to fail. I promise you it’s not that way at all. For one thing, when I worked at a garden center, it was a constant balancing act between the needs and wants of our customers and the weather. We wanted to be able to have what they wanted when they wanted it–and yet we often had to warn them that what they were buying wasn’t quite ready to go outside or in the ground.

I know that I start trolling the garden centers trying to find something–anything–that’s alive and green right about now. It doesn’t matter to me what it is or whether it’s ready to go outside. I know how to handle it.

Last year I bought some heuchera right just about this time. I was so excited to find them. When I got them home and went to transplant them–just from the black plastic nursery pot into a more decorative pot–all I had was a tiny root ball in my hand about the size of a tennis ball. I had paid for a gallon pot plant and I got a tennis ball plant and some very expensive potting soil. Oh well. My fault. That’s what happens when you’re over-anxious to be gardening.

My recollection is that one of them didn’t even survive. It may have been one of the dark colored ones. They never work out well for me, and my anxiousness to get them started early probably didn’t help things along.

Remember that in the spring the soil is still cool–I talked about this in my last post. So it never pays to rush things into the ground. If I do shop early, I will usually keep things in pots to give the soil time to warm before I plant them (of course, I have been known to go to extremes with that and then it’s July and I still have a bunch of pots that I am watering that should have gone into the ground weeks earlier!)

Just remember–just because you see it in the stores, it does not necessarily mean it’s safe–or even desirable–to plant it in the garden just yet!

It’s Time to Garden!

Actually no–it’s nowhere near time to garden–not in my part of the country.

But when my sister sent me photos of tomato transplants at her garden center (she lives in Oklahoma) I realized that of course not everyone is gardening on the same schedule and I had better address some thoughts about plant buying if I wanted to try to reach early plant buyers (well, “early” to me, anyway!)

So here are my initial thoughts about what to look for when you first walk into a garden center or a big box store (and yes, as someone who has worked at a box store, I do buy plants there–but of course, I consider myself a fairly sophisticated buyer. We’ll talk about where to buy plants in another post).

First of all, it’s spring. And if you are a gardener–or even if you are not really, but you just like flowers–after not seeing a lot of them for awhile, once there are acres of them in sight, they  are really hard to resist! So what to do and how to choose?

The most important thing to think about is your weather. Is it really time to plant? Certain plants–perennials and that dubious category of “half-hardy annuals” can take things like a light frost or a light freeze. Most things are not going to take repeated hard freezes or, worst of all, heavy snows!

So there’s no point in planting too early, only to have to go back and re-plant. Garden centers love that. You are just wasting your money if you have to do that, however. And I don’t care who you are, no one likes to run out to repeatedly cover plants–or bring pots in and out of a garage or shed!

Remember what I have said in the past: the soil is very slow to warm up in the spring. In the old days, the farmers would wait until they could walk on it bare foot (or sit on it bare bottomed).

Other ways to tell if your last frost has passed is if the oaks have leafed out. If they have, your last frost has passed.

Some folks use the last full moon but I haven’t found that quite as reliable as the oaks for me. But maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention–or perhaps oaks work better in my part of the country.

However you determine your temperatures, just keep an eye on them if you are planting as soon as the garden centers are selling the plants. I find, generally, the plants come in at least 2-3 weeks before it’s safe to set them out.

More about this on Monday.



Wordless Wednesday–No, It’s Not All Currier and Ives


For those of you who don’t live in areas that get a lot of snow, here you are.

This is one of our parking lots at a box store.  But it doesn’t matter.  All our parking lots look like this–and will for months. Notice where the snow is piled. It’s up to the lower branches on this good sized tree.

We have mounds like this everywhere,  although some recent warm weather has brought them down a bit. What that means, of course, is that to proceed into any intersection,  you have to nose your car forward very carefully–because you can’t see past the snow pillars.

What the recent warm weather means is that every night we have a re-freezing and the following morning there is ice at the edges of the roads, the ends of the driveways,  in puddles in various places–you get the idea. You hope it doesn’t snow on top of these icy patches.

By now you must be wondering why we all don’t just move? After really bad winters,  many of us wonder that same thing.  But for the most part,  we like “seasons ” and the other three seasons and their beauty and mild weather outweigh this. At least most years, anyway.

Wordless Wednesday–Sleety Mess


This looks like a snowy mess but no–it’s sleet! Accumulating sleet, especially this much, apparently is pretty rare (and thank goodness. Shoveling it is like moving wet concrete!). Supposedly the last time we had this much was in 2007.

And it’s much slicker than snow as well.

But no worries. As has been the case all winter, the next few days will be much above average. This stuff is soon to be just a memory.

Are Your Evergreens Doing This?


If your evergreens look as sad as as the one in this photo,  you might be understandably concerned. I have a few things to say about this.

First,  are you gardening in a drought area? If so, try not to stress. Because while this amount of yellowing is NOT normal on an evergreen,  if you have been gardening in a drought area, this could be normal for you this year.

All evergreens shed needles, roughly 1/3 of their needles each year.  That’s perfectly normal.  But trees under stress, such as drought stress, are likely to shed additional needles.

So what should you do?  Keep the tree watered. Deep irrigation is better than a few little soaks with a garden hose.

Don’t fertilize. Don’t add to the tree’s stress by fertilizing . That holds true for any plant, or even a drought stressed lawn.

And finally understand natural cycles and what is “normal ” and what isn’t.  That should help you feel better if your evergreens–either broadleaf or needled–suddenly have yellow needles or leaves.

Winter Weather And Fall Fog


This photo is not quite as “foggy” as my last year’s shot. I got out a little too late.  But in it you can see one of my “grass watering” neighbor’s lawns. You can even see one of his sprinklers going. In the middle of a severe drought I might add. This is the guy who waters at least twice, if not 3 times a day. Sigh.

I have given up on the squirrels after they failed to predict one of the coldest and snowiest winters in Connecticut history (2015). I just hope they didn’t freeze to death. So last year I used the “foggy morning” method.

The saying goes that you count the number of foggy mornings in August and September and that will tell you the number of snowstorms. I used it as a back=up the year the squirrels failed me and there were something like 21. So it worked that year.

Last year there were 2 foggy mornings and we had almost no snow. The Spoiler remembers using his snow thrower, “Kahuna,” 4 times but I can’t believe he even used it that much!

This year I have lost count of the foggy mornings. And while I am not at all anxious to repeat the winters of 2014 and 2015, we do need the moisture. So I will take it in almost any form at this point. What the heck? I’ve got a Subaru!

An Unpleasant Surprise While Transitioning the House Plants

In the fall, I try to bring the house plants back inside a few at a time (“few” being a relative term when you have over 100 plants to transition and no staff of gardeners to help you!)


In the process of clearing off a table beneath this spider plant, I noticed that the table top was sticky. In brushing the plant,  I found that it, too, was sticky. A closer inspection found these.

I was shocked for several reasons.  First,  this is not the sort of plant that normally becomes infested with scale. Next, I am usually pretty good at spotting this sort of thing before it gets this out of control.  And finally,  this plant was showing no symptoms of infestation  (other than the sticky honeydew. Notice the droplets on the one leaf right below the scale? That’s classic.) But I move it once a week to water and never noticed.  Yikes!

Prior to taking the plants outside,  this plant hung above an array of succulents.  Those are some of the first to come back inside, which is how I came to find this infestation.

I have cut off all the affected parts (I think) and isolated the plant away from everything else.  No point in taking chances. If all else fails, I will compost it and simply get another.  Spider plants are great air cleaners. I need to have at least one.

But because it seems the “babies ” are the affected parts, I don’t dare root from this plant.  Far better to  cut my losses and start fresh if I need to.  Time will tell.