by Mary Ann Steele, Somervell County Master Gardener
Now that gardening time is upon us, here are a few tips on buying your plants.
1. Look closely at the leaves and stems. Check underside for signs of pest damage.
2. Inspect shoot tips closely for aphids, small pear-shaped insects that come in many colors. They feed on young tender shoots, distorting growth and giving lower leaves a sticky look.
3. Look on leaf surfaces for signs of spider mites. These pests feed on the underside of leaves, causing a stippled or tan appearance on the leaf surface. They may even produce a fine webbing.
4. Brush your hand over the plant to disturb the foliage. If whiteflies are present they will fly up.
5. Check leaves and stems for scale, small dark lumps that can be scraped off with your fingernail, and galls, tumor-like growths that indicate the shrub or tree is infected with crown gall, a bacterial disease.
6. Avoid plants with wilted or discolored stems or leaves.
7. To be on the safe side, spray plants all over and under with an insecticidal soap.
Garden Centers buy their plants from many different growers and any one of them can have a problem that goes undetected, and you end up with it in your garden.
Bottom line: Check your plants carefully for signs of pests and diseases. If you see a problem put the plant back and shop somewhere else. You don’t want to bring problems home to your healthy garden.