When Can You Ask Your Nurserymen for Help?

Sunset, November 1988 | Go to article overview

When Can You Ask Your Nurserymen for Help?


For many gardeners, nurseries are more than places to buy plants: they're places to get advice and to find solutions to gardening problems.

Full-service nurseries, where mostly plants and garden supplies are sold, are staffed by people who can answer your questions. But unless you arm yourself with enough information to ask the right ones, you may not get the most precise answers.

Sunset asked Western nurserymen how you can help them help you with gardening problems. Here are the most-asked questions and what nurserymen need to know to answer them accurately. (If you have complicated questions, weekday mornings not busy weekends-are the best times to corner a nurseryman.)

What's wrong with my plant?

Before asking your nurseryman to identify what pest or disease is attacking your plant, see if you can identify the problem yourself. Try to catch problems at the first signs of trouble, before the whole plant is affected. Don't wait until the plant is nearly dead, then expect to nurse it back to health; it's probably too late. Insects. Look at them through a magnifying glass. Note their appearance and the damage they've caused. Are they coating the leaves with a sticky residue? Chewing holes in flower buds, or gnawing scalloped chunks out of leaf edges?

Diseases. Are the leaves coated with powdery white patches? The problem could be powdery mildew. Are powdery orange pustules coating the undersides of your rose leaves, or brown ones spotting your snapdragon leaves? It could be rust.

Check some gardening books for clues. See if you can match the symptoms with a culprit, or pictures of the pest or disease with the one on your plants. If you still can't tell what's wrong, take a sample of the troubled plant to the nursery. "Our nursery won't make diagnoses over the phone," says John Chiapelone of Burlingame Garden Center. "Like doctors, we can't be sure what the problem is until we see the patient." Take the whole plant, if it's small enough. Otherwise, cut a 6- to 10-inch branchlet; if you think the plant is diseased, try to choose a sample that shows various stages of infection. Cut it just before you leave for the nursery to make sure it's fresh; dry leaves and dead twigs hold few, if any, clues about what killed them.

Carry samples in sealed containers, such as plastic bags or glass jars with lids, to avoid contaminating nursery stock. Bring chunks of diseased turf-about 6 by 12 inches in shoe boxes. Include a diseased portion and an adjacent healthy portion. Be prepared for questions. If leaves are yellow, for example, the cause could be a nutrient deficiency, improper watering, or poor drainage, The nurseryman will want to know how often you water the plant (once a week? once a month?), how much water you give it each time (a quart? 2 gallons?), how much you fertilize it (and with what), and what kind of soil it grows in. "Tell us what you really do, not what you think you're supposed to do," says Ryan Wagner of Walter Andersen Nursery in San "Our diagnosis is only as good as the information you give us." Once the nurseryman identifies the problem, he can suggest treatment.

What should I plant, where?

If you ask for plant recommendations for a particular site, the nurseryman will want a few details to be able to suggest the best plants. …

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