Meet Mark Cullen

Canada's best known gardening personality, Mark Cullen believes that Canadians of all ages need to play more - preferably in the dirt. A best-selling author with over 400,000 books in print, Mark reaches over one million Canadians every week through various media outlets. He is Home Hardware's horticultural spokesperson and regularly contributes to various magazines, gardening shows and newsletters. With a familiar style that people can relate to, he delivers a message that is compelling, fun, informative and inspirational - all based on his organic approach to gardening. In his spare time Mark enjoys driving his Ford Model A - and of course he loves to garden.

How to Shop at the Garden Center

~ May 30, 2012

When you visit the garden center it can often be overwhelming. I am often approached by gardeners asking me ‘where to start’. I offer this information to help point you in the right direction.

1. Good value does not always equal the lowest price. While there is a lot to be said for sale prices on most anything that you buy retail keep in mind that buying plants is unlike most other items that you put in your grocery cart. Plants are living things. A great looking plant is not pot bound, leggy, has yellowing leaves or is necessarily in full bloom. It IS young, roots only fill ½ of the container, stocky and always green. And not necessarily in full bloom.

2. Labelling pays for itself. During this, one of the busiest times of the year at garden retailers, it is not always easy to get answers from a sales person to your gardening questions. For this reason accurate picture labels are worth their weight. A good label is printed in Canada and is appropriate for our growing zone, includes a picture and detailed cultural information. It is also a handy reference placed next to your new plant in the garden.

3. Roots do not encircle the inside of the container. Young, white fibrous roots are ready to take off in your garden. These roots must make a home in your soil before the top part of the plant can thrive. It is o.k. to turn a plant upside down while at the garden centre, gently remove it from the pot and inspect it. If the roots circle the inside wall of the pot or cell pack put it back and look for a younger, perhaps less impressive looking specimen.

4. Full bloom is not always a good thing. It takes energy for a plant to produce a bloom. It is, after all, an effort on the part of the plant to attract pollinators (not buyers) and to reproduce. A great garden performer will have much more green growth on it than blooms. The power reserved in the roots will be there when you most want it to push the blooms to max while planted in your garden over the next month or two, rather than on the retailers shelf.

5. Wet. The hallmark of a good plant retailer is one that pays close attention to the maintenance of the plants that they sell. Many mass merchant retailers fall down in this department, allowing plants to become dry after they are received at the store. A plant that dries out excessively 'hardens off', reducing the vigor that it had when it left the green house. Avoid buying plants that are 'light weight' [dry] as they may just collapse on you before you get home. Buy wet plants.