Planting Time At The Nurseries

the-briar-patch-2008-055The geraniums have been planted and soon the first bloom will appear. One of my favorite things about working at a nursery was seeing the first spring bloom. It was always the geraniums. Of course, we had to snip it off. I always felt so badly taking off the bloom it had worked so hard to make. The snipping will help the plant produce more stems and more blooms. Registered & ProtectedBetween now and March in our area of NC, the nurseries are busier than ever planting the baby plants that are called plugs. Plugs usually come in trays of up to 100. The nursery workers will have prepared many 4 and 5 inch pots with a good growing medium for the plugs. When the plugs come in to the nursery, they are taken out of their boxes immediately and unwrapped. They get watered and taken to the back tables where they are unstacked and allowed to acclimate for at least a day.

The staff works over-time to get all the plugs in to the liner which will hold the plant until it is ready for resale or until it is transplanted to another pot and will continue to mature. 90% of what I buy is in 5″ pots. I like the established roots and the size of the plants. Some people try to buy plants too early from a nursery. They see the blooms and are ready to buy.

The staff tries to tell those folks that the plants are not ready. If you purchase a plug too early, it will not have established roots. It will probably have a stunted growth or perhaps even die. They need the regulated temperatures of the nursery. The nurserymen regulate the temperatures and feed applications for several months so the plant will leave the nursery with a good root support system.

Not only does the temperature and feed application need to be monitored but the growth is also watched. Too much growth and the plant will peak too early. You won’t buy it because you have purchased a hanging basket in the past that was too mature. It was pretty but it declined in health after its initial burst of color. You won’t do that again and nurserymen know that. They  use growth regulators to help the plant stay healthy longer. Growth regulators can be used to slow or speed the growth. Each plant has different requirements.

A skilled nurseryman has a complicated job. You will return to a nursery every year if the plants you purchased were quality and lived up to the tag expectations. But if you purchase a plant from a nursery who has no clue what they are doing and misuse the growth regulators or fertilizers then you’ll be finding another place to shop. Growth regulators have gotten a bad rap from people who don’t know what they are. And nurserymen who use it to boost sales in the wrong way will drive off their own loyal following. If your plants do well all summer, then your nurseryman is more than likely educated on what he or she is doing.

Don’t be afraid of some chemicals being used by nurseries. If you have ever bought any plant at the big box stores, you more than likely got a treated plant. I worked in those nurseries for years and I never got sick once. In fact, I felt better while working there.

I inspect my roots before buying a plant and you should know how to do that too. They should be numerous and white but not twirled around the bottom of the pot. Don’t buy six packs until a good amount of the roots have grown 3/4 the way to the bottom of the six pack. If plants have dried out, they will probably forever be stressed.

Spring is coming and the nurseries are working hard for you. They want you to be excited too. There is much anticipation this year and hope that you will buy more plants than you ever have. Our nurseries need us to help them. They have been suffering for a few years now. I know many that have gone out of business. I am sad for them.

Let’s look forward to Spring!

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Fascinating! Great look at the “inner workings.” I admire your enthusiasm and respect for the industry. Our retail nursery and garden center is the recipient of all this diligence, innovation and hard work… the wholesale grower’s final product not only reflects well on his nursery, but in the end, on our garden center… we enjoy the compliments and return business, season after season. (I use “our” in the broadest sense, as I’m an employee of Corliss Bros., but it’s a family-like environment.)

    Anyway, kudos for the enlightenment and details!/Deb
    You love your Corliss Bros that way I loved my nursery. The place I worked is a full service nursery and grower. It’s not a real big place at all but lots comes out of it. Spring before last, NC did what NC does best and had a frost after the tender annuals were delivered. I enlisted the help of my very strong grown son to help me haul all the bedding plants back inside, then outside, then inside where they stayed cluttering the isles for awhile until the danger of frost was way past. I’ve also hauled out the nursery blankets and scraped my knuckles trying to save them. I know you have tried to tuck a blanket under the flats and doesn’t it kill your fingers? There isn’t nothing easy about working at a nursery but it is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

    They are retail also just like your shop. I didn’t so much like all the merchandise we had to put everywhere and even liked the pricing of it less. But when I went to make an arrangement, it was nice to have the variety of pots to choose from and maybe put a trinket in for added measure. I’ve seen pictures of your Corliss Bros. and you all carry some really good merchandise. It’s displayed nicely and looks inviting. I like a shop where everyone is family. I see that Lucy-Maude goes with you to work and is an employee too. Of course she is……she’s not sure about all the outfits though.


  2. Phillip (UK) says:

    I certainly do look forward to the Spring and the first Snowdrops will appear soon. That was fascinating about what goes on behind the scenes at the Nursery – I never thought about it before.
    It’s not too different than how hard you worked helping your dad and grandfather. I learned a lot and have a deeper respect for where my plants come from. My old boss opened up a second nursery in a prime location. That is really good news to know this may be a good year all around for the local nursery business. We are coming out of the worst drought NC has every had.


  3. Oy. I think we’ve got 2600 geraniums — just geraniums — coming in in a few weeks. Tens of thousands of plugs of other things. Plus whatever seedlings and cuttings we’re starting ourselves.

    I feel a little strange saying winter’s my favorite season on the other garden blogs, because everybody else is complaining so much about the weather and not being able to do any gardening, but winter’s the closest thing I get to a break. And even then there are still the poinsettias to deal with, which is both nice and not. But at least you know where I’m coming from. Don’t you?
    Oh yes I do know exactly where you are coming from. You know well that I’ve worked in the same sort of place you work and in a small private nursery too. It’s all hard work no matter the season. I don’t think everyone realizes the work it takes to grow the geraniums.

    Are you testing the soil? Cutting them back? Watching for yellow leaves? Rotating the thousands of them? Keeping the dripers stuck in the pots? So on….. I know you are and bless you for it. So many new varieties these days.


  4. Robin says:

    I don’t like pinching back. I know it’s better for the plant in the long run, but it is just so difficult to cut off a bloom.
    I agree. My pansies are too long and leggy right now all because it’s the only thing blooming.


  5. joey says:

    Very interesting, Anna. I’m sure wherever you worked, the crew was delighted to have you near. I work closely with local nurseries, especially in spring planting our many gardens here in the Village as well as keeping an eye on my own. Have made many wonderful friends throughout the years and always great to be greated with hugs.
    Back when I was working at a nursery, the owners would see someone coming like you and shove me out the door to greet them. They knew I had a love for combining color and it sure works when you are selling plants. Your village is lucky to have you. I once saw a picture of it and was blown over by the beauty.

    Thank you for such kind words and I did love working at that little nursery. They cut back employees due to the drought. They are still in business and I’m proud of them.


  6. Cinj says:

    I’m horrible about pinching back plants too. I don’t use many chemicals either, so I guess that’s why my plants don’t flourish like yours do. I want to start some of my own plants, but I don’t know how I’ll do with them since I’ve only tried once before.
    I don’t use any chemicals but I know you meant the good stuff I use on my plants. I quit using harsh chemicals about two years ago. I started putting my blood and sweat in to the soil. I get free leaf mulch and put down as much as will fit in the space. It does the trick.


  7. nancybond says:

    With the holidays just over, it seems like spring is still a long, long way off, but not so! Seems we just start bemoaning the long winters when the first, faint signs of spring are upon us. Time really does fly — it’ll be planting time again before we know it. 🙂
    If I was still working at the nursery, this might would be one of my busiest times. Second only to the first two weeks of May. I still have mulch to put down. It’s been too wet and too cold to work on the gardens or Copper Top Cottage.


  8. Karen says:

    It’s fun to have the inside scoop! You are right, a plant that you buy in poor condition is probably never going to truly recover. I really need to keep that in mind more when I am shopping. I am also bad about thinning/pinching back. I know it helps the plant branch and make more blooms, but I hate to take that first flower too! 🙂
    I try to pinch back continually but not on the same plant. One day it’s the geraniums and the next will be something else. That’s why I keep a good pair of Fiskars in my pocket. Snip, Snip, Snip!


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