JoAnne Skelly: Plants are always prettiest when fresh from the nursery

Have you ever wondered why plants you buy at the nursery during peak season often look different after being in the ground a year? Their leaves may not be as big or as green as when you purchased them. Their flowers may be smaller and possibly even a paler color. You buy something like a hydrangea with big blue blooms, expecting it to produce the same big blooms the following year. Often, this is not the case. What’s happening?

Plants sold in Nevada’s retail nurseries usually come from California wholesale nurseries. There are some exceptions, such as “Nevada’s Own” Perennials, who grow plants locally. Plants that have just come out of nurseries are generally going to be beautiful specimens with big blooms and vibrant green leaves. After all, they were grown under optimum conditions — the perfect light, humidity, temperature, soil mix, soil pH, nutrients and irrigation. They are pampered their entire lives so their beauty might entice you to buy them.

Of course, you succumbed to the plant’s attraction and purchased that lovely whatever. You planted it in your soil expecting it to thrive in Nevada’s harsh climate, which includes desiccating winds, low humidity, little winter moisture and often, brutal sun. And, although you have irrigated it and maybe even fertilized it, it is unlikely to achieve that same level of beauty in its first few years here, if ever.

Imagine the shock the plant goes through after growing in the perfection of its original greenhouse, to being loaded onto a crowded truck and possibly overheating or freezing in transport, to sitting in a nursery and finally being planted in the ground, which is rarely loamy and inviting. It often takes plants two to three years to adapt to our soil conditions and to grow roots out of their original root balls. Think of roots as swimmers accustomed to a wonderfully warm pool gingerly sticking toes into icy water. Why would they want to jump in and swim? They take their time to get used to a less-than-ideal situation.

Eventually, with good care, proper conditions and irrigation all year, new plants usually do adapt. If you buy high-quality plants that are healthy in the first place, lower your expectations a bit and be patient as they adjust to all the different factors in their lives, your plant will make you happy.

JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


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