All across the country gardeners will be out in full force this weekend. For zone 5-6 gardeners Memorial weekend is THE weekend to plant. They’ll be planting vegetable gardens, filling porch pots and hanging baskets of flowers. Some will be sprucing up flower beds and laying new mulch. True gardeners won’t be picnicking and getting out the boat this weekend- they’ll be in the garden. Nursery and garden shop owners love Memorial Day and most will be fully stocked. But before you wade into the frenzy here’s some things you should consider.
What do you need to accomplish over the Memorial Day Weekend? What supplies will you need? Listing all the things you need to accomplish will help you set priorities and make sure that something important doesn’t get left until the last minute or forgotten. Having a list when you shop for plants and supplies will keep you from forgetting things or purchasing what you don’t need. Before you go out shopping set a budget, decide what you need and make a list. If you are a plant-a -holic take a friend who isn’t one to keep you on the straight and narrow.
The healthiest vegetable transplants are those that are stocky and dark green. When you are looking at cell packs- (the plastic containers holding 4-6 plants), you do not want to choose vegetable transplants that already have flowers and fruits. These have been stunted and stressed and will not perform well for you. If vegetables such as tomatoes are in large pots, then having flowers and fruit are fine.
Look for vegetable plants that are not lanky and yellowing or wilted. Plants like cucumbers, squash, watermelon and pumpkins should be very young, with just one set of true leaves. If they are larger they tend to get transplant shock when planted and may not do well. Things like carrots, beets, corn, and beans can be purchased as plants but really should be planted directly in the ground as seeds. These tend to suffer transplant shock and seeds and transplants planted at the same time often mature at the same time. You have a wider range of variety choices when planting these from seed too.
Most annuals will be in full flower when you choose them, even though that probably isn’t the best way to purchase them. It would be better to choose those annuals in cell packs that are dark green and stocky, and just starting to bloom. For foliage annuals such as coleus the plants should only be about 6 inches tall in cell packs. Look over plants carefully. They should be healthy looking, not lanky, wilted, and yellowing or losing a lot of leaves. If the annuals are in cell packsthe biggest, tallest plants aren’t the best choice; they are usually stressed from growing in the cells too long. Check each cell pack you pick up to see if there is a plant in each compartment. No sense in paying for 4 plants and getting 3.
Annuals in 3-4 inch pots that are blooming are more expensive than cell pack annuals but give you instant color and make the area you are planting look more filled in. Make sure the plants in these pots are compact and dark green and check them carefully for signs of insects and disease.
By the way, experts no longer recommend you remove the flowers of most annual plants as you plant them. However if the plants look extremely lanky and floppy removing the flowers and even pinching the plant back a little may make them look and perform better. Don’t over buy annuals. They may look a bit sparse when first planted but will fill in quickly. Crowded plants are prone to disease. And since annuals only live one season it doesn’t make sense to make them the biggest part of your plant budget.
Make sure to check perennial plant tags to see if they are hardy in your planting zone. Sometimes plants slip through into Michigan stores that are not really winter hardy here. It’s always good to do your homework before purchasing perennials to see when they bloom, how often they bloom and what conditions they like before investing in them. The adult size of the plant should also be taken into consideration.
A lot of tropical and tender perennials are being showcased in garden shops. Chinese hibiscus, bougainvillea, gardenias, camellias, agaves and other things look beautiful in gardens, but won’t over winter outside in Michigan. If you are not at a true nursery with experienced help, don’t count on sales clerks to know what is hardy. It’s ok to buy these, if you know you’ll need to provide winter homes for them.
It’s probably too late to get healthy trees and shrubs that are packaged- those in plastic bags with shavings or in cardboard boxes. If they are marked down to bargain prices you can take a gamble and sometimes you’ll get lucky. Because they are often leafed out and look fine, people think they are healthy. They have used up most root reserves and often don’t live. If you are paying full price go for potted trees and shrubs by Memorial Day. This is also true for roses. Potted plants should be showing green buds or be leaved out at this time.
For any type of plant, even if it’s an impulse buy, make sure you have the right conditions for the plant at home, what kind of light ( shade or sun) and moisture conditions does it need? There is no sense buying plants that won’t grow in your conditions.
Planting and care
And finally, take care of your plants after you buy them. Don’t leave plants in the car in the sun while you shop elsewhere. They can die from overheating. When you get home put the plants in a shady location, sheltered from wind, until you plant them. Don’t forget to water them; they dry out fast in pots and especially cell packs. You may have to water twice a day in hot weather. Plant them as soon as possible, make it a rule to plant what you have before buying more.
Plants should be placed in the ground at the level they were growing in pots or cell packs. If the roots of your new plants have circled around and around and look like a solid block of white roots they’ll often stay that way when put in the ground. As you are planting nip off the bottom of the root balls with your fingers, just a teeny bit, and splay the root ball out to the sides a bit. After planting check the plants frequently to see if they need water. If they are wilted at all water them. They’ll need water less frequently once they get established.
Mixing a little slow release granular fertilizer formulated for blooming plants or vegetables, depending on what you are planting, into the soil as you plant is a good idea. Annuals need more fertilizing than most perennials and vegetables and will need more granular fertilizer or liquid fertilizer in a few weeks to keep blooming well. Follow fertilizer label directions. Do not use Epsom salt or other home remedies when planting; these do more harm than good.
When you are planting things that will need support, like tomatoes or beans, put your cages or trellises up as you plant. This will avoid damaging the plants later.
When planting into containers make sure to use a good, lightweight potting soil and make sure all containers have good drainage. Don’t overcrowd the container as you plant, leave room for plants to develop and spread. If you are putting perennials into container gardens remember they must be taken out in early fall and planted in the ground if you want them to survive the winter.
If you have to work on the holiday weekend don’t despair. Memorial Day isn’t the last time you can plant; there will be several weekends in June left for good planting. Things may be a little picked over in the nurseries right after the holiday but you will probably get some bargains as nurseries want to move out most stock before it gets too warm. And larger nurseries keep some annuals in pots around longer for those who have to get a late start. Just get your plants and start planting.
Kim Willis lives near Clifford, Michigan on a small farm that she shares with her husband and numerous animals. She worked at the Lapeer County MSU Extension office for many years but is now retired. She is a freelance country and garden writer. Her book Complete Idiots Guide® to Country Living was published in November 2008. Her best selling chicken book, Raising Chickens for Dummies® was published in 2009. She also wrote Knacks Canning, Pickling and Preserving (2010) and Cooking with Beer (2012).