Planning Ahead


     I have spent the better part of the winter educating myself, attending trades shows, seminars, garden tours, private gardens and surfing the net all to better prepare myself for the upcoming year. I learned a long time ago that no one can learn every plant… there’s simply too many. That said, I am eager to learn as many as possible and I am constantly adjusting my favorite plant list. My personality has me making lists, setting goals and attacking projects whenever I can. When customers come into our garden center, and they have been all winter long, with their special plant requests, I’d like to think I’m ready. The question is… are you?

A little background about the green industry and the way it works. Orders are placed for plant material as early as last summer for the coming spring and acknowledgments for those orders, from suppliers, go out soon after. The beginning of the new-year confirmations are sent out confirming total counts and availability of plants. Barring any catastrophic storms or unforeseen circumstances, these confirmations are accurate and true. What all this means is there is a race, almost a fight, to get premium, unique, rare and well-groomed plants. Not all plant material is created equal! I wrote an article about this in the Gardener News back in May of 2006. Cultural practices such as grafting, pruning, fertilizing, spraying, tissue culture, air layering, planting mediums and growing environments are just a few things quality growers know and implement to develop their premium plant material. It is not by accident that good-looking plant material arrives at your independent garden center.

And while there are many growers in the world who may grow rhododendron, to pick a commodity most have heard of, not all of them are finished the same way. Consider if you will, the wine makers who use the grape cabernet sauvignon. A widely recognized red grape variety that is grown in nearly every major wine producing country. Diverse climates from Canada to Lebanon show the adaptability of this grape, yet their finished tastes can be quite different. The French have a word that loosely translates as “a sense of place.” The terroir “is the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with the plant’s genetics, express in agricultural products such as wine, coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, heritage wheat and tea” (Wikipedia). Plants like the afore mentioned tomato, coffee, chocolate, wheat and tea all embody, “the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of that product” Wikipedia). Compound all of this with the mechanics of pruning, fertilizing, staking and grafting, just to name a few, and you can begin to understand that simply dropping a small plant into a pot and waiting for your return is much more complicated than that.

To the point of this article, Planning Ahead, you should consider an outline for your garden projects now so you will be better prepared next month when fresh plant material starts arriving at your local garden center. Do your research, whether it’s for the skeletal bones of your project like boxwoods, laurels and azaleas or for a unique specimen plant like a Japanese maple, dwarf conifer or any number of deciduous beauties, plants come and go quickly in the spring. Given the limited opportunity to dig trees out of the ground in late winter and early spring, should you want larger caliper specimens, my advice is to visit early and often, your preferred garden center, this year. The buzz at all the trade shows, this past winter, was plants are in short supply right now. Even pedestrian plants like Alberta spruce and arborvitae are limited this year. Contributing factors include the economic downturn and recent storms. Production, by growers, has been rolled back over the years and is now coming to a head.

The best growers in the country understood, years back, when there was a surplus of plants, that growing quality plants is all about rotation. When their numbers were deep, only the disciplined made the harder decision to destroy crops and continue on to avoid future loss. Today, those who had that foresight and discipline have “The Goods” while others who choose to salvage an already floundering crop have more of the same in their pipeline. This spring, scrutinize your selections, ask thoughtful questions and engage professionals to help plan your gardens. Remember, planning ahead will save you time, money and potential disappointment this spring.