Tips for buying and caring for plants

April 30, 2014

Spring is prime plant shopping time. Here are some tips from The Morton Arboretum’s Plant Clinic to help you buy the right plants and get them off to a good start.

Read the plant label. It contains important information about the plant’s needs that will help you decide whether the plant is right for your site and for you.

Coreopsis 'Mercury Rising'
You can plant perennials such as coreopsis in late April or early May, but wait until the soil warms up for tender plants such as tomatoes.
Think about your site. Do you have a sunny or shady yard? Is your soil clay, sandy or rich and well-drained? Does the site tend to be wet or dry? Is it exposed to wind? Plants that are adapted to the conditions you have at home are more likely to thrive and need less maintenance.

Choose plants that need the amount of sun they will get in your yard. The label will tell you how much sunlight the plant needs.
"Full sun" means at least 6 full hours of direct sunlight each day.
"Part sun" means 4 to 6 hours of sun each day.
"Part shade" means 4 to 6 hours each day but protected from afternoon sun.
"Full shade" means less than 4 hours a day.

Match plants to your hardiness zone. The USDA hardiness zone tells you how severe a winter the plant can withstand. Much of the city of Chicago is in Zone 6. Most of the suburban region is in Zone 5.

Buy enough plants. Most perennials look best when planted in masses in odd-numbered groups of 3, 5 or 7.

Allow for growth. When you plant a tree or shrub, allow for the size it will reach when it is mature, in five, 10 or 25 years.

Plant when it’s warm enough. Once you get them home, trees, shrubs, perennials, and some cool-season vegetables and annual flowers can be planted in April or early May. Tender vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers as well as warm-season annuals should wait until mid-May or later, when the soil is warmer.

Care for them while they wait. Until you can plant them, keep the plants where it’s cool but not freezing and sheltered from the wind.  Water them and keep the soil moist until they are planted.

The Morton Arboretum is grateful for Bartlett Tree Experts’ generous sponsorship of the Plant Clinic.