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Beware the marked-down bargain plant

Published: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 10:56 a.m. CDT

URBANA – 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.”

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 any sign of disease. Signs of insect feeding could include a sticky, shiny substance on the upper leaf surface, or 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 brown, spotted, or wilted leaves, which may be due to improper watering, but could also be signs of other problems or disease.

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.

Another reason a plant may be 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,” Miller said. “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.

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