Blog post

Why Your Bedding Plants Might Not Grow

June 10, 2010 19:51

 

Have you ever had the experience of getting a pack of bedding plants from the garden centre and planting them out only to find that a month or two later they have barely grown any bigger? You probably blamed yourself for using poor quality compost, or the wrong fertiliser. Well, it's probably not something you did at all.

When a garden centre sells bedding plants it's important that the plants are nice and compact. Too small and customers will feel they're recently pricked out, and too big and they'll reject them for being too leggy.

But bedding plants grow quickly and, with the vagaries of the weather, sowing seeds at just the right time so they are at the right size for selling just as the customers appear is an impossible task. So growers need a way to control the plants so that they stay compact until they can be sold.

There are two ways of doing this. One way is really easy, the other is really hard.

The hard way is to control the plant size by controlling the watering. Basically the more water you give a plant, within reason, and the faster it will grow. Restrict the amount of water, even going so far as leaving the plant slightly limp, and the plant will almost stop growing completely.

A side benefit of doing this is that, whilst dry, the plant will concentrate it's energies into root growth in the hopes of finding extra water supplies. On our nursery we keep most bedding types dry in our growing on house, then, when the time comes to sell them we water them up to make a compact, presentable plant for sale.

But keeping plants limp, without being so limp that they die or suffer permanent damage such as scorched leaves requires lots of skill on the part of the grower. You need to weigh up the weather conditions, how dry the plant is at the time you are watering, what variety you are watering, and even if you want to give a particular variety more water because it is selling fast.

So most growers choose the easy way. The easy way is to spray them with one of a group of chemicals called 'growth regulators'. These effectively stunt the growth of the plant, usually shortening the stem length between each set of leaves. Spraying is quick and the plants can then be easily watered by junior staff members.

And it works well. The growers get to supply beautifully compact plants to the garden centres. But, when you get the plants home and plant them up, what happens?

Well, for a plant which has been grown the hard way all those extra roots start sucking up the extra moisture you give them and soon grow into big, healthy, bushy plants. The plants which have been sprayed? If you're lucky they will have only been sprayed with a low level of chemical and may also get off to a good start. If you're unlucky they will still be full of chemical and they will stay as small, dwarfed plants for the next month or two.

So, the next time you are buying bedding plants, ask the nurseryman if the plants have had growth regulants applied to them, and if you so may want to consider shopping somewhere else.

 

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