Sizing Up Plants: How to Buy Just Enough

How much you pay depends on how soon you want a big show.
Ellen Ruoff Riley

New places offer the exact same thing in as many different sizes and prices as the average garden center. The photo above shows what we mean. We bought fuchsia impatiens in three different quantities and prices--a six-pack for $1.45, a 4-inch pot for 98 cents, and a 10-inch hanging basket for $5.97. Which of these three was the wisest purchase? The answer depends on how patient you are and how soon you need a big impact.

Three Options
Looking to fill out a long border and willing to wait two months or so for the full effect? Then go with six-packs. Space plants about 6 inches apart, plant them in fertile soil, keep them watered, and feed them with 20-20-20 or 15-30-15 fertilizer about every 10 days. When the weather warms up, they'll grow quickly. Ultimately, they'll give you the most bang for your hard-earned buck.

But suppose "Patience" isn't your middle name. You want a bold display in just a few weeks, and you're willing to pay more to get it. Then choose the 4-inch pots. Space and treat the plants the same as you would ones from six-packs. Plants should completely fill the area in 14 days or so.

Now, for some of you, 14 days is 13 days too long. You're having people over tonight, so you need a large display of flowers by this afternoon. The solution: Buy a bunch of hanging baskets. You'll spend a lot more, but for you, it'll be worth it. Slip the plants out of their containers, and put them right in the ground. Or remove the wire hangers, and drop the baskets into attractive concrete or terra-cotta pots, using a little ground bark mulch or Spanish moss to hide the baskets' plastic edges. Voilà! Instant impact! Your guests will praise your genius.

This article is from the March 2005 issue of Southern Living.