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Ask a Specialist: Plants Can Be a Bargain this Time of Year


Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014


Aug. 19, 2014

Ask a Specialist: Plants Can Be a Bargain this Time of Year

By: Taun Beddes, Utah State University Extension horticulturist, taun.beddes@usu.edu, 801-851-8460

 

            Many local retailers and box stores are selling plants at a discount as the gardening season winds down. Most of these businesses don’t want to over-winter containerized nursery stock, so there are often many good deals to be had. However, it’s important to be cautious as a consumer. During the late season sales, the best deals are often on plants that businesses haven’t been able to sell. Some of these may not be adapted to our climate, or some may have been stored for more than one season and are root bound.

            Prepare before you go bargain plant shopping. Know whether potential landscape plants need shade or sun, how much water they require and how large they will grow. Consider the following:

            * Information often listed on a nursery plant tag includes cold hardiness, the eventual size of the plant and other ornamental benefits. However, information about whether it requires sun or shade may not be correct due to our unique, dry climate. Additionally, the tag will not list if it is adapted to our soil or other drawbacks. Remember that just because it looks great in a pot does not mean it will stay that way in the yard.

            * Many trees and shrubs popular outside the Intermountain West are also commonly planted here but are often less adapted to our climate and soil. Among these are sugar maple, red maple, azaleas, rhododendrons and dogwood trees. They lack the ability to uptake sufficient iron and other micronutrients from our alkaline soil. In many situations, annual applications of EDDHA chelated iron are needed. This is not only inconvenient but can be expensive. The current retail price is about $20 a pound. A fully grown shade tree may require more than this annually to keep iron chlorosis at bay. These species also may not tolerate our low humidity well.

            * Some plants may have been in their container for more than one growing season. When this occurs, roots grow to the edge of the pot and start to circle. Later on, these roots can choke off major portions of the trunk and harm or kill the plant or tree. To avoid this, it is often easy to carefully remove the container from the root-ball to inspect the roots. If plants have circling roots, use a sharp razor blade or knife to cut into the root-ball from top to bottom about a quarter-inch in on three or four sides but not deeper. Do not break the root ball apart otherwise.

            * Some of the most adapted plants to our climate are not well known by consumers. One tree, common hackberry, grows into a good shade tree that is relatively drought hardy and adapted to alkaline soil. It does not look very polished in a container compared to a maple. Later on, however, the hackberry will most likely be healthier and require less maintenance. Other trees to consider include bur oak, English oak, modern crabapple varieties, Hawthorne species and junipers. Some shrubs to consider include ninebark, snow mound spirea, lodense privet, rose of Sharon, alpine currant and mugo pine.

            For further information on trees and shrubs that grow well in your area, contact your local USU county Extension agent.



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