It’s that time of year when plants, shrubs and trees are all budding out, and we can do transplanting, rooting, and starting from seed. With all of that plant and gardener activity, it only takes a bit more effort to have plants to share, and at the same time expand the diversity in your own yardscape.
That’s the idea behind the annual Master Gardener Plant Exchange. It’ll be held this year on Wednesday, May 27, at 7 p.m., as part of the free public class series offered by the Tooele County Master Gardeners Association. Not only will you enjoy a great presentation by Ginny Hooper entitled “Landscape Design Principles” and be entered into a drawing for a landscape design consultation, you’ll also be able to stick around and take part in the plant exchange. All this is happening at the USU Extension Office, located at 151 N. Main, in Tooele (just across from the Big 5 Sports store).
Plant exchanges are beneficial for a number of reasons — beyond simple economics. Paramount in my mind is that I am getting plant material that is local. That means it’s likely to be adapted to my garden, as it’s already growing “around the corner.” Even so, the level of adaptation is not absolutely assured, but you’ve increased your odds of doing well with that planting. To help assure you’ve got a winner for your landscape, check the provided label, or a call out to determine who brought it, and get some great insights. Knowing the amount of sun or shade needed, hardiness, water requirements, rate of growth, tendencies to be invasive, bloom and leaf colors, shape, as well as how to propagate it, is all great information you can use. Once you know these things, you can make an intelligent decision that you will be happy with from season to season.
There’s some basic etiquette to observe when attending a plant exchange. First, bring plants that are already established in their pot as much as possible. That means getting them potted now! This allows the plant to be in good condition so that it has a very good chance of adapting to a new home. Whether you are starting from seeds, taking divisions, layering, air propagating or rooting cuttings, the time is now to allow sufficient time for your plants to be established and ready for “prime time.”
Courtesy also demands that your plants be well-labeled with as much information as you can reasonably provide. At the very least, provide a common name, botanical name if you know it, sun or shade placement needs, and if it’s an annual or perennial. If you have room, you can describe its planting spacing and mature height and width. If a plant is not a true perennial, but readily self-seeds for the next generation, mention that as well.
Avoid bringing invasive plants that tend to take over an entire area. As pretty as grape hyacinth is, they don’t mind their manners and will naturalize readily and abundantly beyond where it is planted. The same goes for Bishop’s Weed (aka “ground elder”, or “snow-in-the-mountain”), a perennial low-growing plant that will take over a flower bed in a season. It looks attractive enough at the outset with its two-tone leaves, but it seems to have an unending appetite for space and light. Mints are great, but must be contained as they will easily get out of hand with runners that readily “tip layer” and put down roots from side shoots. Mint varieties should come with strong warnings if they are shared.
It almost goes without saying that anything that is diseased or appears “unhealthy” shouldn’t be shared. General cleanliness of anything you bring is important and considerate. Make sure the pots you put your exchange plants into have been washed to remove soil and dust, then disinfected using a weak bleach water solution. Then, let the pots air dry in the sun before using potting mix to give your plants a nice temporary home.
From time to time, someone brings gardening gear and supplies to exchange. This is fine, if the items are in good condition. Broken, rusted, dirty, or “sun beat” items should stay at home and either be repaired or renewed by sharpening, oiling, etc. to bring them back into service, or disposed of properly. Broken terra cotta containers, brittle or cracked plastic pots, and heavily soiled items make a mess and diminish the experience for everyone.
As the exchange proceeds, taking only one plant of each variety is much appreciated. This allows more people to try something new or add something that they’ve been looking for. Once everyone has chosen the plants they want, you are welcome to take a second plant in that variety if there are any remaining.
I do recommend you come prepared to the exchange. Beyond the plants you’ll be bringing, having some plant trays or plastic trays to transport your plants home without leaking water or spilling soil in your car is a good thing. Paper towels are good to have on hand as well. I also plan to bring my Sunset Western Garden Book with me. If you have one, you should too. With this fantastic reference, you can get all sorts of information about each plant to help you determine if it’s a fit for your yardscape.
Can you attend the event if you don’t have anything to exchange? Sure. Gardeners are a friendly bunch and are some of the most generous people I know. If you don’t have anything to exchange for a plant this year, making an offer to cover the basic cost of the pot, potting medium and the time it took to pot up the plants is a great courtesy. Generosity from both sides is a great thing.
Now, let’s look at what you do once you’ve brought your new treasures home. If what you have has not established itself well in its container, exercise patience and let it develop roots to permeate the soil mix. Place it, along with other plants, in a semi-shady area, and keep it moist until you see the plant gain its confidence and begin to put on some top growth. By putting the little plants with others, you are limiting sun exposure and drying breezes, as well as keeping the sun off the pot, which can heat up quite rapidly — in even moderate sunshine. My favorite labor-saving and success-boosting practice is to use large flat concrete-mixing tubs to put all the plants in together and let them sit in a bit of water. This allows them to be bottom-watered and to self-regulate how much moisture is needed. Check daily and add about an inch at a time. Don’t put more than an inch or so at a time to avoid oversaturation and oxygen deprivation of the plants.
If your plants come home ready to plant with well-established roots, rhizomes, or bulbs, or you’ve gotten young starts to the place they are ready to transplant in, make sure that the surrounding soil is very moist, but not soggy. If your soil is dry, it will draw out the moisture around your plant’s root system, seriously reducing your chance of a successful transplant. Treat the roots with care as you place new plants and water them in well right away. Maintain good moisture for several days to get the plants acclimated to their new location. I like to transplant in the very late afternoon to allow the plant to “go to sleep” for the night, have the soil temperature drop, allow moisture to fully surround the planting, and to have the plant fully hydrate overnight before having the soil begin it’s warm up the next day.
One more plug for my friend Ginny Hooper. During the recent Spring Garden Expo, Ginny was a very popular presenter with a packed room as she gave insights on landscaping design approaches. Due to the response, she’s back again! I wasn’t able to attend her presentation, because I was in different room doing another presentation at the same time. This will give me the chance to see what I missed. Information on this great evening is in the Bulletin Board section of this paper. I look forward to seeing you there — and exchanging a few plants with you afterwards!
Jay Cooper can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit his website at dirtfarmerjay.com for videos and articles on gardening, shop skills, culinary arts and landscaping.