KC Gardens

How to select bedding plants: Pick the healthy ones

By Dennis Patton

Marigolds Submitted.

The local garden centers are bursting with color as truckloads of plants have arrived all over town. Bedding plants, or transplants, are a popular way of quickly adding color to the landscape for the summer. Successful gardening comes from a careful selection of healthy plants, and proper care and planting after purchasing.

Selecting healthy, vigorous plants requires us to look at more than the pretty flowers. Examine the foliage for dry, papery areas, tip burn, or wilting. These all indicate improper watering either during the production or at the retail outlet. These symptoms are also signs of possible root damage. Poor roots and weak foliage will hamper establishment in the garden.

If the flowers are fully open and have started to turn brown or fade, remove them at planting. This is necessary to avoid seed formation which uses valuable energy needed by the plant to form roots. Consider buying the plants green. That is, plants with buds but not open. These plants will establish quicker in the garden.

Before purchasing the plants make sure the soil has been properly prepared. Till the soil to a depth of at least 6 to 8 inches and add 3 to 4 inches of compost or other organic matter. The compost will help loosen up our heavy clay soils and provide nutrients for strong seasonal growth.

The key is to buy healthy plants and get them into the soil as quickly as possible. Plants that remain in their cell packs or containers for prolonged periods become stressed and stunted, which will limit growth.

When planting the flowers, set them in the ground no deeper than they were in the cell pack or container. If the roots are planted too deeply, they will be starved for oxygen. Lightly pull the roots apart if tightly wound around the soil ball. This helps the roots reach out into the soil. Water the plants after planting to settle the soil.

During the summer, keep the plants evenly moist to promote good growth. A light layer of mulch, about 2 inches deep, will help cool the soil and conserve moisture, along with controlling pesky weed growth. Periodically, throughout the growing season, snip off the faded flowers or straggly stems as this keep the plants producing more blooms instead of seeds.

Make plans to attend the Extension Master Gardeners’ educational garden tour May 20 and 21. This tour will feature six gardens; visit www.johnson.k-state.edu for a virtual tour of the fabulous gardens and ticket information. Tickets may be purchased online and at a discount through April.