A few tips for dealing with nursery staff
Remember: the more information you have about your site, the better the chances of getting meaningful help. Armed with the skills and data you gathered from working through this course, you can ask better questions, have a better idea of what you’re looking for, and give the salesperson enough information to better answer your questions. Instead of saying “I have a shady area in my yard. What can I do?”, you can (for example) say “I have an area that is part shade (it receives 3 hours of direct sunlight per day), the soil is slightly acidic (a pH of about 5.5), is a heavy clay loam that gets compacted very easily, and there is a lot of wind with little structure to protect it. What plants would you recommend?”
Find knowledgeable employees. Nurseries often hire part-time help, students, and otherwise inexperienced people who are just learning the nuances of gardening. Most of what they can tell you is basic information, so try to find the expert on the staff—most nurseries have at least one.
What to look for when selecting plants
In general, your best bet is to buy only healthy-looking, shapely plants. Plants that are droopy, wilted, discolored, or lanky will take longer to mature and require a lot of nursing. Look at the whole plant, sometimes wounds are hidden beneath the foliage.
Healthy plants will transplant better and mature faster.
When choosing plants in containers avoid those with lots of roots growing outside of the container as they indicate a crowded root system that may inhibit healthy growth. This is especially pertinent for woody plants that may develop a deformed root system, which contributes to a fast rate of decline.
When choosing balled and burlapped plants look for crowded roots, for the reasons stated above. Plants with excessively hard root balls may have trouble extending their roots into the soil. In all cases, handle balled and burlapped plants carefully.
With bare root plants there isn’t much to look for other than a healthy-looking root system—the more roots, the quicker the plant will adapt to its new garden.
When buying non-woody plants look for a generally healthy appearance, and beware the presence of weeds in the pot. Large weeds growing close to the roots can be difficult to pull without harming the plant. Also, plants that are not in bloom will usually transplant better than those with blooms.
Note: Contrary to what people usually think, buying larger plants does not insure that your garden will mature faster. Research shows that over extended periods plants that are smaller when purchased exceed the larger ones in growth. This is especially relevant when buying trees.