Have you ever been stumped when purchasing plants? That pun wasn’t intended, however, sometimes the decision on what size plant to buy can be a dilemma.
As a gardener, I have to consider several things about plant size before purchasing plants. I have to consider my physical limitations, age, soil texture, plant growth, time, and a few other things before purchasing plants. Some of these considerations may be temporary. For instance, I remember having a foot injury once, so I purchased small, young plants and used the hand trowel to dig the holes. At that time, purchasing plants that were small was best for me.
Purchasing Plants That Are Young and Small
The three most obvious reasons for purchasing plants that are small is cost, time, and work. The cost factor is obvious, however, the time and work factor means that you won’t have to spend so much time digging a big hole. That alone can be your best incentive when purchasing plants.
If you have any physical limitations there’s no point in straining yourself or making an injury worse. Purchasing plants that are small will probably be the best way to go. Check with your doctor before picking up that shovel.
I’ve learned over the years that the soil texture has a huge impact on purchasing plants. When I lived in New England, the soil was black, crumbly, and full of nutrients. There were some rocks but not enough to complain about. I could dig holes to China if I had to. Then I moved to Colorado…
Colorado is unquestionably a beautiful state and I wanted to make my new backyard into a glorious bouquet of flowers. I began to dig. The first night after digging, my right foot (my digging foot), swelled to twice its size. The clay, rocky soil of the southwest is so hard to dig into that it was actually traumatic for my poor foot. While digging, my foot did not hurt. It was only after I stopped and rested that my foot swelled up.
Clay soil is awful to work in and I usually purchase many bags of ‘Clay Buster’ from Home Depot each summer. There’s no digging to China here so purchasing plants that are smaller save me from injuring myself. For this reason alone, I try to purchase nothing over a 1-gallon pot size. While purchasing plants such as trees or shrubs may require a larger pot, I now hire the nursery to dig the hole for those plant purchases.
The best reason of all for purchasing plants that are small is that the plant seems to develop better roots and branches grow denser. It’s been my experience that these young plants can spread their roots quicker and develop better root systems and better branch systems than older plants. Older plants have had their growth stunted in pots and although they will eventually branch out, they may take longer to recover from the transplanting process.
Purchasing Plants That Are Large and A Little Older
Although I prefer purchasing plants while they are small, there are times when purchasing plants that are older and larger is necessary. If you’ve just moved into a hot Southern state and you want a nice shade tree so that you can sit under it during the day, you obviously don’t want to wait ten years for it to grow. Purchasing plants that are several years old, big, and beautiful becomes the priority.
When purchasing plants that are over ten gallons, it’s best to have the nursery plant it for you for several reasons. These plants are very heavy to lift and because they’re older, the stress of being moved and transplanted is usually harder for them. Let the nursery do it and that way if the plant does not survive, there’s usually a warranty on it.
Cost is a consideration when purchasing plants that are bigger and older. They are more expensive, however, I’ve found that many nurseries will give a discount on a tree that they’ve had in their nursery for a few years. It’s not doing them any good sitting in a pot, so they’d rather sell it at a discounted price. Be sure to ask about a discount because it’s an older tree.
The best advantage of purchasing plants that are older, larger, and more mature is that they are instantly beautiful in the yard or garden. At once, they become the center of attention and dress up your landscaping. It’s instant beauty in a pot!
The labor of transplanting a large plant if you’re going to do it yourself can be a downside. Time may also be an issue with bigger plants and the soil texture or your physical limitations are definite considerations.
In my younger days, when I had better strength and was capable of digging big holes, I found myself purchasing plants that were larger. You do have to consider your age and strength when purchasing plants and their size.
Another downside of purchasing plants that are larger is the recovery time can be a year or two before the large plant shows any signs of growth. This has happened to me several times especially with trees. If it’s happened to you, don’t be discouraged by this apparent ‘no growth’ period. As long as the tree or shrub is still green, it’s roots are recovering from shock and once the roots have adjusted, the tree or shrub will grow.
I had a Concolor Fir that I transplanted in a new home in New Hampshire. Concolor Firs are beautiful trees with a silvery blue color and it was to be an accent tree surrounded by dark green Austrian Pines, Junipers, and Fraser Firs. The year after I planted it there was no growth. No new shoots, nothing. It looked fine and was still beautiful, so I nurtured it a bit by feeding it once a month to help the roots. The second year, the same thing happened-nothing. Now, I was getting discouraged. That year, I again nurtured this tree and it looked fine to outsiders, but I knew it wasn’t growing. Finally, in its third year, it was full of new growth and shoots. I was elated and this tree grew beautifully after that. The lesson learned here is that sometimes patience is needed when purchasing plants that are larger and older.
When purchasing plants, only you know what your limitations are financially, physically, and geographically (the soil type). Don’t over do it and be conservative is my motto. I want plants to grow, but I also want to stay healthy and not injure myself. Make your best judgment and then sit back and watch your garden grow.
Sources: Personal Experience