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Make garden selections early

John Zvirovski shows just a few of the wonderful items that are already out on the shelves for your planting pleasures. John Zvirovski / The Sun

This past week I went to some local markets and saw the bareroot product and garden bulbs starting to fill the shelves in the garden centers. Every year there is a big market for these items as they are inexpensive and easy to grow. However, if you get poor product you will not be successful in your quest for a nice plant. Due diligence and a little self-examination of the product you are about to buy is very important. After you make the purchase how you treat and store that product is just as important.

Bareroot Items that you will see on the shelves might be astilbe, hosta, peony, iris, daylily, bleeding hearts and liatris. Bulbs that may grace the shelves are an assortment of begonias, callas, elephant ears, gladioli, Dutch iris and caladiums. Some of these are packages in boxes while others are packed in bags. Some of the bags are mesh style or of a green plastic which you can’t see through. The plastic makes it difficult to inspect what you are buying but does not make it impossible.

If buying these items early, but you do not intend to plant them right away, place them in a cool, dark and dry location for the time being. Someplace that is too damp can cause rot and other places that are too light and warm can cause premature growth.

Inspect the products you are buying in the best way you can. If you can see the roots and the bulbs through the packaging, make sure they look healthy, yet don’t have too much for growth on them, if at all. If they are growing already, then you need to plant them as soon as possible and give them the most light you can to keep them from getting leggy. Leggy plants that go outdoors later are sure to burn in the new conditions.

Bulbs should always be firm, yet not dry and brittle. If you can’t see the bulbs through the bag, lightly feel them through the bag to ensure they are good. People see me in the stores doing this quite often as I have been disappointed before by just buying stuff not inspected. Those days are gone.

This past week I bought a few of the harder to find bulbs and some that I like to start early. Some of the bulbs such as caladiums, begonias, and cannas do well with an early start. Often times, caladiums can take three to four weeks to come up as they are instigated via warm soil conditions. I usually use a heating pad beneath the containers or place them into an enclosure with a grow light and a heater. They do best with soil temperatures that don’t drop below 55 degrees. Cannas are similar, but I always say the best time for these to get planted are between April 1 and April 15. If you start them too early, they will become too large for planting and will take a hit once they go outdoors. My intent is to get them sprouted so they are ready to go once planted outside. Elephant ears are another bulb that take a lot of heat in order to sprout. They are slow to begin, but once they have their first leaf, they are on their way!

Yes, this is an exciting time of year. I nearly have to restrain myself each time I see all the new products out as I know I am going to go after them before I even know what my plan is. This past week was nine caladium bulbs (among a few others) of a beautiful color and the bulb size was too good to pass up. Often they are somewhat small, but these were quite large and will produce a nicesized plant. So, with an idea in mind, I collected what I needed and made a planting date for them and we will be on our way.

Get out early to look through these items as the best ones are usually the first ones on the shelves before they get picked through … or squeezed to death! But this is the ideal time to begin inspecting and making the right purchases. Enjoy the start of the season! I see the snow is now melting quickly - what little there is left.