Best Plants for the Buck

Charlotte-(WBTV)  Spring officially arrives Tuesday morning, but with temps already in the 80's many of us are itching to get in the diet and play.  Before you spend money on plants, I went to an expert to find out if there really is a difference between those plants at the big box stores, and the ones we see at our local nurseries.

Jeni Munn owns Rosewood Garden Designs in Charlotte.  I met with her with a carload of plants.  I went shopping at two big box stores and a well known nursery.  I was amazed when I came across knockout roses at all the stores.  All of them came in same bright colored pots with a web site address.  But each plant looked very different, and the costs ranged from 29 dollars to $14.99.  "There is a good reason they're all in these posts, this is a patented plant, it's part marketing and part of the patented 'knockout rose'," Munn told me.  In looking at the plants she notices something I hadn't at the store, a small powdery film on my least expensive knockouts.  "This one has powdery mildew.  Even at that price, I'd avoid a plant like that.  You bring that home and into your garden and you can potentially spread that disease to all your plants," Munn said.  She liked the medium priced bush, it had already leafed out, a sign it was grown in a greenhouse, and Munn said, if you want instant gratification, greenhouse plants offer that.

I had her go over several plants, and in each case she made a very good point, "If you plant is hardy and a variety that grows well in this climate, if it is in good shape, that is the kind you buy at a big box store," Munn told me.

But Munn made a very good argument for spending more at a nursery.  "This is all they do, they educate their employees, they are not about home improvement and things like that.  Plants are all they do and they are passionate about it."  Munn also believes nurseries are the best place to invest in unusual plants.  "They are always getting in new varieties, things that just don't sell at a big box store," said Munn.

Munn took me to a giant artichoke plant that must have been close to three and half feet high.  "I just planted that this fall," she said.  We counted at least four big fat artichokes on the plant.  "This is the kind of plant you're not likely to find at a big box store, and look at the statement it makes here," Munn told me.

There are three things Munn recommends you look out for.  First and foremost, check the leaves of the plant, if they feel limp or have brown around the edges, there's a good chance it's not been well taken care of and the roots could be damaged.  Secondly, look for diseases, like powdery mildew.  Also, check the stem or stalk of the plant.  If it wiggles at the slightest touch, there is a chance it got banged around in transport.  That can weaken the plant down the road.

So plan on shopping both the big box stores, and your neighborhood nursery.  Just save a chunk of your budget for the plants that are more unusual.  Munn says you'll be happy you did.

You can see some of her work on Rosewood Garden Designs web site.