To the market Getting perennials in containers

You can usually purchase partially grown perennial in pots, and they come in a variety of pot sizes, from a mere 2 inches on up to 5 gallons. Both mailorder nurseries and local retailers sell perennials in containers (see the next section for info on mail-order perennials). The larger the plant is, the more mature — and expensive — it is, and the more immediate your gratification; however, a smaller plant can catch up quickly if you plant it in an appropriate site and give it good care. Consider also how big of a hole you want to dig.

Here are some important ideas to remember so you can be sure of getting a good potted plant:

  • Buy a healthy plant. Examine the entire plant:
  • Look above and below the leaves as well as along the stems for signs of insect or disease damage. A few yellowing leaves are fine.
  • Examine the crown for signs of rot (no good, obviously) and fresh new shoots (very good).
  • Pop the plant out of its pot and examine the roots. They should be crisp and viable, often white or brown, not wiry, wry, limp, or black. Avoid pot-bound plants.
  • Choose a plant that's not yet in bloom. Some growers force plants into early bloom so they'll look good at the stores, but don't be seduced! The trip home in your car or adjusting to the transplanting process often causes blossoming perennials to jettison expendable growth; in other words, they ditch petals and unfurling buds.

If your new plant sheds its flowers on the way home, make sure you plant the perennial well and care for it; it may bloom again soon enough. However, many perennials don't rebloom, so the show may be over until next year. You're best off choosing a plant that's conserving its energy.

  • Don't buy out of season. Bargain perennials aren't always a bargain. Those plants for sale in midsummer have a stressful time of establishing themselves; fall-planted ones may do just fine or may succumb to winter's cold (see "Fall planting" ahead).
  • Have a few alternatives in mind. You can't always get what you want, but with all your options, you should be able to find something that works.
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