In With The New, Part 2

On Monday I talked about where I bought plants and why I tended to prefer family owned garden centers over the box stores.

Today I want to talk about what I buy. And here I am not going to talk about actual plants so much as I am about choosing plants in general. Because I know I have readers from all over the country (and some from other countries as well.) So I want to try to give you a philosophy of shopping since what works for me in central Connecticut isn’t going to work in other places.

Of course the moment you get to the garden center, there are lots of signs. Aside from the general signs directing you toward “Perennials” or “Trees and Shrubs” or toward other general categories of plants, what you will generally find are tags on the individual plants.

These tags are what are known as “growing instructions” and give the grower’s best guess of what the plant is going to do. You’ll note that I said that I said the grower’s best guess.

This is less true for annuals, which complete their life cycle in a single year, so the grower has had ample time to observe the plant, and very true for shrubs and trees which take anywhere from 3 years or, in the case of trees, many years to reach maturity.

I am always amazed at the height ranges given for something like the Knockout rose, for example. I still regularly see that “guesstimted” at 3-4′. In my garden, before I gave it a hard pruning last year, Knockout was topping out way taller than I am last year and I am guessing it was over 6′ tall.

The same thing with the Endless Summer hydrangea. Again, I see that “guestimated” at 3-4′. Again, in my garden, unless it gets killed back by a very cold winter, it is over 5′ tall. And remember, I have horrible, wet heavy clay so my garden soil is not optimal for growing anything!

So now that we know that plants can’t and don’t read what’s on their tags with respect to height, why do we care? It’s important because if we are going to be placing shrubs in certain spots (under a window, for example) and the height range given is 4-6′, you had better count on the shrub perhaps reaching  its maximum of 6 feet and plan to prune it so that light gets in your window.

But, if this is a brand new shrub, just released in the last year or two, all bets are off. No one really knows how tall that shrub is going to be because no one really has trialed it to its full growing potential. The growers have grown it in their carefully controlled fields–but in the home landscape? Nobody really knows.

I can say this with complete confidence because I am a shrub trialer for a company whose name you would all recognize and I can tell you that I get some pretty bizarre results when I trial their shrubs. I have one of their roses that again–they report as getting to be 3 1/2-4′. In my yard it’s up over my head which means it’s 5 foot plus. And it’s very thorny so it’s a bear to prune. It’s a lovely shrub and I adore it–but 31/2-4′?  No!

So if you are looking for consistency, perhaps get some plants that have been around for a few years. Sometimes the “latest and greatest”–except with respect to annuals–are a little dicey in the garden.


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