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NANCY SZERLAG

Gardening: Introducing plants to your garden spot

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

When buying plants that are new to me, the first thing I do before adding them to my cart is read the plant tag. They tell me if the plant needs sun or shade, which is key to healthy growth. Next come watering requirements. Most plants do best in soils that stay moist throughout the season.

Soil needs may or may not be indicated. Some plants do best in soil rich in organic matter, while others prefer lean sandy soil that contains almost no organics.

Good drainage is another key to success for many plants, however there are plants that thrive in soil that stays wet all season.

Most gardens have a variety of microclimates that require plants with specific needs, so the information on plant tags provides major clues to the “right plant, right plant place” rule of successful gardening.

What plant tags and even gardening books rarely reference is the wind factor. Wind has a big effect on plants throughout their lives. I blow on my tomato seedlings every morning because that slight breeze helps them to become sturdier.

Wind also dries and desiccates tender leaves and if strong enough causes tearing. It makes me crazy when I see a tree sticking out of the trunk or cab of a car or truck, unprotected.

Some shrubs and trees are sensitive to wind chill that depending on the force, can drop temperatures from 20 degrees to well below zero in winter. Japanese maples are prime examples of trees that should be sited in areas protected from wind.

Summer winds can also play havoc with plants in the garden. In volunteer gardens we don’t have the option to pick and choose our planting times. Gardening time falls once a week, same time, same day, so unless it’s raining, we’re digging in the dirt.

Last week brought a bonanza of plants garnered from sales and mail order. Mail order plants and those housed in greenhouses sport tender leaves that have not been hardened off and can suffer sunburn and windburn on a hot, windy day. Rather than plant these tender plants in beds that are fully exposed to 20 mile an hour winds we were experiencing, we planted them in an area protected from the wind and hot afternoon sun. We also tucked our large pots of annuals in a protected spot and wrapped them with frost blankets. These lightweight spun polyester sheets that allow sun and moisture to penetrate but block out damaging winds are available at independent garden centers and by mail order.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to Yardener.com and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.