When buying plants at a garden center or nursery, take the list of those you want with you, and try to stick to it. Remember, perennials look best planted in groups of three or more, while shrubs will need space to grow.
Garden centers often stock a large range of plants, but only a small selection of each species. For a greater choice, use specialty nurseries; many offer mail-order or online service.
If some of the plants you have chosen aren't available at your local garden center, it's tempting to select a similar plant, but take care to check the labels for heights, spreads and growing conditions first. Different species of the same type of plant may grow to very different proportions from the one on your list.
Before buying a plant, give it a quick check to make sure you take home a healthy one. First look at the leaves and stems for signs of pests and diseases, and reject any plant with wilted foliage. Large weeds growing in the pot are also a sign of neglect. Then, turn over the pot. If a mass of roots is growing through the drainage holes, the plant has been in its pot too long a condition known as \"root bound.\" Finally, look for plants with lots of leafy stems and fat flower buds.
Just a few roots showing through the drainage holes suggest that the plant has a well-established root system but hasn't been in its pot for too long.
Cause for Concern
Of the two climbers shown here, the one on the left is the best choice, with lots of leafy stems.
It's best to plant your purchases within a day or two of bringing them home, but if this isn't possible, store them carefully and they should continue to flourish until you have time to plant them, or the weather improves.
Store new plants in a cool, shady spot, and water daily until planting.
Don't plant if the soil is waterlogged or frozen; the roots of young plants won't survive in either of these conditions. Planting in a drought is also not advisable because you will bring cooler, damp soil from beneath the ground up to the surface and lose precious moisture. In either case, store your new plants in a sheltered area in the shade, and water daily until the conditions improve.
If you're unable to plant bare-root plants immediately, simply bury their roots in the ground to keep them protected and moist.
Taking a few hours to prepare the soil before you plant always pays dividends, and often ends up saving time in the long run. Removing weeds and enriching the soil are essential jobs that are best done in the fall or early spring.
Remove All Weeds
First, dig out all of the weeds from the site by hand, or apply a weedkiller to pernicious types, such as bindweed or ground elder. If the weeds are really problematic, consider covering the soil with old carpet for a few seasons. This excludes light and moisture, as well as forming a physical barrier against weed seeds, and should kill off many of the most troublesome types.
If you have taken on a neglected plot, or want to improve all the soil in your garden, try \"single digging.\" This involves digging a trench across your plot, one shovel wide and deep. Move the excavated soil to the far end of the plot and add compost to the base of the trench. Dig a second trench next to the first, filling the first with the excavated soil. Then add compost to the second trench. Repeat across the plot. This is hard work, but well worth the effort.
By digging in compost over the whole plot you won't have to worry about adding it to individual areas each time you plant.