The Garden Guru: Invest your time and resources at a good nursery

Posted Friday, Mar. 28, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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With all my heart and soul, I want every person who heads out to try gardening this spring to enjoy resounding success.

I’m sure piano teachers have those same emotions as they guide each new set of tiny hands, and great math teachers I’ve known certainly celebrated our ongoing successes, no matter how small. And they stayed by our sides as long as we needed them.

If you’re unfamiliar with a subject, you don’t become an overnight expert. You need a mentor. Someone who will be there to advise you and to reset your compass when you step off the path. You need a really good nursery.

To help you find someone reliable, I’m going to point out the factors I consider in choosing the nurseries I frequent.

Selling beauty

The best nurseries look good themselves. They make strong statements about their community. They’re clean and tidy, and they’ve landscaped their own grounds. Great nurseries display their plants attractively, and they nourish them properly, to keep them at peak perfection until you take them home. Dead, dying or declining plants are quickly removed from public view. That’s how good nurseries operate.

The right fit

I read a consumerism statement once that suggested when you buy a plant in a nursery, that plant should have a reasonable chance of succeeding in your landscape or garden with normal good care and attention. Or at least you should be warned of special problems you might expect that plant to encounter if you were to select it.

Seek out the nursery manager. Ask his or her name, and ask, “Here are the plants I’m thinking about buying. Is there any plant in this cart that might present me special problems, and if so, what are they?” Let that manager own part of your decision. Let them know that they’re accountable to sell you top-quality plants and products.

Good nurserymen will be open and honest in sharing their knowledge with you.

Cost versus value

How important is price? If I can save a few dollars on a plant, I’ll at least give it a thought. However, there is one critical thing that most bottom-line shoppers ignore: What is the quality of the plant that I’m getting? Is it healthy? Is it filled out well? Do its roots fill its container? Or is there a much healthier, fuller, better-rooted plant down the street for just a dollar or two more?

Cheap plants are not always a bargain.

Seek guidance

Do you need design help? When you start landscaping, you’re about to take a journey, perhaps to a spot you’ve never visited before. Do you want a road map for that journey, or are you satisfied to stumble along through the darkness?

A landscape plan, even a fairly informal one, makes you think about the overall picture you’re about to create, and how each plant and hardscaping element will play a part in its final look. Unless you’re well versed and comfortable in creating your own plan, yes, you probably will want help. Your plan will save you more than you’ll spend.

Full-service retail nurseries often have skilled designers on staff to assist. Or at a minimum, they have fervent “plant people” who know the tools of the designing trade like a plumber knows wrenches. Ask the manager if someone is available to help with your planning.

Caution: Those folks get covered up with their work this time of year, so plan on setting an appointment if your needs are more than for just a quick plant suggestion. And know that they’ll be able to spend more time with you if you go in during the week and in the mornings.

Check the scale

What sizes of plants should you buy? Good nurseries usually have several options for most of the tree and shrub species that they offer. I’m a fan of buying small to mid-size shade trees (unless I need a mature look for an established landscape, in which case I’ll go larger). And I buy medium-size to large container-grown shrubs.

I like the immediate impact I get from the larger shrubs, plus I’m not as likely to crowd the new plants together. They also give me a greater margin of error when it comes to watering the new plantings. A good nurseryman will guide you through all those decisions.

The real pros know

Look for a Texas Certified or Master Certified Nursery Professional when you strike out to go shopping. He or she will have studied long hours and taken a comprehensive exam on all aspects of horticulture. You can trust the advice you get from a certified professional to be timely and reliable, and that brings us full circle to why finding a good nursery is important to your plant-growing prowess.

Have fun shopping around. You’re about to enjoy gardening to its fullest.

Neil Sperry publishes Gardens magazine and hosts “Texas Gardening” from 8 to 10 a.m. Sunday on WBAP AM/FM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227. Online: www.neilsperry.com.

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