How to pick a healthy plant

April 05, 2010|By ANNETTE IPSAN

How do you pick a good plant? Well, there are some things to look for whether you are eyeing a tomato plant or a petunia, so let's cover some basics.

Think green. A healthy plant has dark green leaves. The deep color indicates good chlorophyll content. It's chlorophyll that converts the sun's energy into food for the plant. So if a plant looks pale or yellow, walk away. It's not a vigorous plant.

Look for full plants. Height isn't everything. Opt for a thicker, bushier plant than one that is spindly. Often tall, skinny plants have been grown in poor light or have overgrown their pots.

Next, check for insects and disease. You want a healthy plant, right? Don't accept any insect hitchhikers. If you see aphids crawling on the stems, leaves that have been nibbled severely, spots on or under the leaves, webbing or growths, put down the pot.


Now it's time to check out the roots. Yes, it's OK to gently wiggle a plant out of its pot to look at the roots. Healthy roots are white, not yellow or brown. They should be solid, not mushy. And they should not be encircling the pot or growing out the bottom. This is a sign of a plant that's been in its pot too long.

Beware of pots with unknown sprouts. Weeds can hitch a ride on desirable plants, bringing untold problems into your garden. Tiny seedling weeds you can remove, but if a pot is overrun, steer clear.

Know your garden center. Look around. Do all the plants look healthy? Is it obvious that they are well cared for? Do you see staff members watering, inspecting the plants and providing good care? Can they answer your questions? Good nurseries grow good plants. And in Washington County, we are blessed with many good nurseries.

Beware the deep discount. Yes, that flat of begonias is half price, but what's the real cost? If they are overgrown, potbound, infested or diseased, they are no bargain. Know that the real deal is a plant that is full, green, problem-free and well cared for.

You can often find good plants at local plant sales run by various schools and nonprofit organizations. The Washington County Master Gardeners' annual plant sale is always held the last Saturday in April at the Ag Center on Sharpsburg Pike. On April 24, from 8 a.m. to noon, hundreds of perennials, vegetables, herbs, annuals, houseplants, fruits and shrubs grown by Master Gardeners will be sold to benefit our educational programs.

Our garden marketplace will have new and used gardening books, tools, gifts and supplies. Vendors will sell rain barrels and other garden products. And our Master Gardeners will be teaching in our vegetable demonstration garden and new rain garden. The event will be held rain or shine. My best tip is to come early for the best selection of plants. They go fast.

Whether you are growing vegetables or annuals, herbs or perennials, take the time to really look at the plants you are buying. Quality matters. A healthy plant looks better, lasts longer, produces more vigorously and allows you to pat yourself on the back for being such a savvy plant shopper.

Annette Ipsan is the Extension educator for horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland Extension. She can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1604 or by e-mail at">

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