Murphy John's, Inc. Sudlersville, MD


Back to Plant Care

Care of Flowers in the Garden

While we all know the best care for annuals is to be planted in the consumer’s yard as quickly as possible, unfortunately life is not always like that. The longer a plant is in your garden center the more care it will require. To prolong the shelf life of your product the following factors should be considered.

Buy only the best! Start out with high quality items that will have a longer shelf life than lesser quality plants. Remember those “bargain” plants you bought? You know the ones that were delivered and you only kept them because they were cheap? How much time and effort went into making them salable? Just because you pay less doesn’t always mean you get a bargain. Be sure to deal with reputable growers who only send high quality plant material. The better it looks the quicker it sells, and the quicker it sells the quicker you can refill that space to sell even more. Not to mention the money you will save on NOT caring for that plant.

Of course, we do not live in a perfect world so there will always be a need for proper care of plants in the garden center. Obviously the first thing we want to do is to properly place our plants by cultural need, i.e. sun lovers in the sun and shade lovers in the shade. Consider also designating plant areas by water requirements. Keep the thirsty Impatiens near to the hose and the less water loving wax Begonias farther away.

It’s all about the water! We’ve all heard the old expression “She who holds the hose grows the rose.” An inexperienced employee can destroy an annual Vinca crop in three days with improper watering. Water should be applied when the plants require it, not when it is convenient for the employee. Early morning watering is obviously best, but keep in mind that some plants do not require daily watering. For example a wax Begonia will require much less water than a spreading Petunia or a water hungry Sun Coleus. Try to train employees to observe soil color and plant condition when determining water needs. Just because a plant is wilted does not mean it needs water. Perfectly wet Impatiens will wilt during high heat conditions. Additional water can be detrimental to their root systems. Check the soil to be certain the amount of water required by the plant.

Plants need their soil to be watered, not their foliage. Simply waving a wand over the top of the bench will not provide effective water distribution. The soil needs to be thoroughly and evenly drenched. When at all possible limit the amount of water hitting the foliage to reduce the risk of disease. If hand watering is problematic, consider water booms that roll over the top of benches. There are models that do not require electricity and are adjustable for the height of the bench. These inexpensive systems will wet the foliage but insure an even flow of water over your plants.

Plants don’t like wet feet any more than humans! Be sure any trays your plants are in provide drainage. Shelves should be mesh rather than a solid surface. Keep an eye out for puddles of water near plants that indicate poor drainage situations.

The watering needs of a plant will vary by the size of a container. Plants in market packs will require higher amounts of water than a plant in a 6” pot. The amount of foliage also has a direct impact on water usage. Those giant 10” hanging baskets of Petunias can require twice daily waterings on hot, windy days whereas the Ivy Geraniums may be just fine every other day.

We’re hungry! Remember that most growers fertilize their crops very often. Lighter soil mixes utilized by many growers do not have the capacity to retain nutrients for a prolonged period. Therefore the nutrients must be re-applied to keep the plants looking their best. The best method for plants that are hand watered/manually boomed is to simply add the fertilizer to the water. For small operations a proportioner can be put in a bucket of fertilizer solution and attached to the hose. For larger operations a fertilizer injector system can be more efficient. These can either be portable (attached to a hand cart) or directly installed into the plumbing system. A unit installed directly into the plumbing must be kept out of the public areas. Also, water systems with fertilizer in their lines must be well labeled in public areas to ensure that no one accidentally ingests fertilizer water. Plants should be fertilized a minimum of every three waterings using a well balanced fertilizer containing micro-nutrients. Your fertilizer sales representative can help you determine the most efficient fertilizer for your operation.

The fertilizer needs of plants are directly related to the size of the container and the frequency of watering. Those 10” Petunia baskets being watered four times as often as the Ivy Geraniums will require much higher rates of fertilizer. Market packs that are often watered will require more fertilizer than a 4 ½” pot. 4 ½” pots have the ability to hold more nutrients with the greater soil volume. Certain varieties of plants require much higher rates of fertilizer. A Snapdragon will probably do just fine at the same fertilizer rate that will leave a Petunia starving. While it is difficult to keep everyone at their optimal level you will be happy with the results of your efforts when you see those deep green Petunias riding away in your customers cars.

Proper care of your plants also includes cleanliness! Nobody would buy a dirty new car, so why would they buy a “dirty” plant? Of course proper watering and fertilization techniques will greatly reduce the amount of discolored/dead leaves on your plants but any that appear should be removed at the earliest possible time. Spent blossoms should be removed to encourage new blooms to appear and to discourage the onset of disease. This is especially important during damp weather. Consider designating a “Rainy Day Dead Head” crew for this task. Use sharp scissors or pruning shears to perform this task. Disinfect cutting implements often with a 1:10 bleach and water solution. This will prevent the transferal of disease spores from one plant to another. Remember also to keep the surface of your benches and shelves as clean as possible. Shopping is a much more pleasurable experience in a relatively clean environment.

Are those Petunias growing into each other again! Use your sharp scissors to cut back any long, scraggly looking growth. This will encourage new growth to emerge from the center of the plant. Most trailing annual plants will respond well to this treatment especially Verbenas, Bacopas, Calibrachoas and other trailing plants. Don’t worry about the short amount of time the plants will look “clipped”. Most of the rapidly growing trailers will recover from a soft “pinch” within 3-5 days. More aggressive plants that need a harder “clip” will look much more salable within 7-10 days under good growing conditions. Periods of rainy weather will extend the recovery time.

Plants need to breathe! When conditions permit, space your plants out on the benches. This will cover the dual purpose of seeming to have more plants and allowing more air circulation around your plants. Increased air circulation allows for the foliage to dry more rapidly and reduce the risk of disease. It will also discourage that Verbena from reaching over to plant itself in its neighbor’s pot. Plants that are spaced are easier for the customer to remove from the bench and place in their shopping cart.

By following these recommendations you can have happier, healthier plants that will rapidly find their way from your garden centers to a beautiful existence in your customer’s garden.