Beware the infected bargain plant
bargain plant
February 27, 2014
  • /ACES
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URBANA, Ill. - Buying bargain plants at the garden center can be very tempting, but before buying that marked-down plant, it’s important to give it a good inspection, said a University of Illinois horticulture educator

“Usually when a plant is marked down, it’s either because it is toward the end of the season for that plant or because there is a problem with that plant,” said Candice Miller. “Some of these problems may include various diseases or insects that are infecting the plant that could then spread to other plants in your home or garden.

“Using some inspection techniques can help you decide whether that plant is a quality plant to purchase,” she added.

First inspect the leaves and stems of the plant closely. Look on the upper and lower sides of the leaf checking for any symptoms of insects feeding on the plant or for any sign of disease. Signs of insect feeding could include a sticky, shiny substance on the upper leaf surface, possibly caused by aphids. Or there may be white fuzz-covered insects called mealybugs that have attached themselves to stems or leaves. All are common pests that can infect potted plants.

Look for any browning, spotting, or wilting of leaves as well. “Those symptoms may be due to improper watering, but they may also be signs of other problems or disease,” Miller noted.

The root system is also important to inspect. Carefully turn the plant over and gently remove the root ball from the pot. Check to make sure roots look white and healthy and have formed a solid root ball that does not fall apart when pulled out of the pot. “Large circling roots may be a sign that the plant has been in that pot for an extended period of time and roots that are darkened and look diseased may be a symptom of disease problems,” Miller said.

As mentioned, the other reason a plant is marked down is simply because the season has ended for that plant. Amaryllis bulbs, for example, are commonly sold during the holidays as a kit that includes the bulb, soil, and a container. “I went through this inspection process myself recently at a garden center,” related Miller. “I love amaryllis so a 90 percent-off amaryllis bulb is hard to pass up. Upon inspecting the bulb, though, I noticed that the bulb had already begun to grow inside the package and there was mold growing on the bulb, likely from being in a moist, warm package for too long.

“If I had purchased that bulb kit, I likely would not have had success in getting it to grow and bloom. It was an example of when plant inspection pays off,” she said.

The next time you’re tempted by a bargain plant, be sure to give it a good inspection.

“If the plant passes inspection and is growing happily and healthily, that plant may be worth the reduced price as long as the planting time is still appropriate,” Miller said.