Janice Shand oversees plants at the Country Grocer in Lake Cowichan. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Great started plants right at the local grocery store

This led me to approach Janice Shand, Country Grocer's gardening maven, to pick her brains.

By Mary Lowther

When David and I walked into the Country Grocer last week we noticed their huge display of bedding plants. “There’s a column in this,” David remarked. “Your readers would like to know what is available locally.” It’s hard to argue when he is right. Fortunately it doesn’t happen that often, but having bought their plants before with great results I reluctantly conceded the point.

This led me to approach Janice Shand, Country Grocer’s gardening maven, to pick her brains. I grow most of my own seedlings but often a different variety sitting on the shelf will convince me to take it home. I went looking for a few hot peppers and came away with a flat of flowers as well, because there’s a deal if you buy a flat.

Janice says they sell about 1,500 tomato seedlings each year and usually run out before the end of June, so this year they’ve ordered more. Readers who have experienced the difference between a freshly picked tomato and the commercial variety will understand why.

This is Janice’s seventh year working in the garden section and she knows her stuff. Country Grocer gets most of their bedding plants from Vancouver Island sources and a few from the mainland. Janice goes to plant auctions on the mainland at the start of the season to get the best plants at affordable prices. If you want a certain variety she can place an order and have it brought to the store if any of the suppliers carry it.

Once the plants are on the shelves, Janice keeps them watered and fertilized; they get Miracle Gro one week and fish fertilizer the second week. Most of the suppliers use no pesticides, none of them use neonicotinoids that kill bees, and Outrageous Edibles from Coombs supplies only organic plants. Every effort is made to ensure the customer buys a healthy starter of good quality.

Here’s what to look for in a bedding plant. Check the bottom to see if long roots are sticking out or winding around inside the pot; these plants probably won’t grow as well because they have run out of room for their roots, although this doesn’t seem to bother flowers as much. Vegetables need more nutrients and care. Check the soil for moisture; you want moist soil that hasn’t pulled away from the pot because that might indicate that the plant has dried out.

The first thing I do when I get a plant home is soak it in water for about an hour and then drain it off. Suppliers harden off the plants before they get to the store, but I like to either give them a little more time hardening off or provide a bit of temporary shade when I plant them outside. A board stuck in the ground on the sunny side will suffice. Hardening off entails taking the potted plants outside for a few hours each day to inure them to the elements so the shock of being moved from the cozy indoors won’t be so abrupt. If I have bought the plant before the weather or garden is ready or if the plant isn’t big enough to resist predation, I’ll repot it until conditions improve.

The three peppers I bought today look bright, turgid and green and should produce a nice crop. David refuses to cook without them, so it’s in my own best interest to keep him supplied. After all, every meal he cooks means I have more time for the garden. I’m also wishing I’d known that Janice takes orders, I would have asked her for Roman Chamomile back in March. Who knew you could order plants from the grocery store? Live and learn.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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