Fall is a great time of year for plant installation. Cooler temperatures provide a less traumatic transition for planting than during hot, dry summer months (for both plant and gardener). Also, the soil is warmer than in spring, which makes digging a bit easier. Not to mention sales on trees, shrubs and perennials are in full swing at many locations.

So, it’s a win-win: take advantage of pricing that may not be available come spring and give plants a good start before winter. (Note: it is best to have plants installed by mid-October to establish roots before cold weather sets in.)

Be a smart shopper when visiting the nursery and garden center to purchase a tree, shrub or perennial. Have some ideas in mind rather than “Hey, it’s a sale! Let’s buy some plants!”

Do your homework. Be prepared to ask – and answer – questions to ensure purchase of the right plant for the proper placement in your landscape.

Prior to your visit to the garden center, ask yourself these questions:

• Where do I want to install the tree, shrub or perennial?

• Is adequate space available in that site once the plant is fully grown?

• Is the site sunny or primarily shade?

• What is the soil condition in the area to be planted? Does the soil tend to stay rather wet or does it dry quickly?

• Do I want something that is evergreen (keeps its foliage or needles over winter)?

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• Is bloom important to me or am I more interested in foliage?

And one more, very important, question is how much work do I want to put into caring for the plant? Some plants need staking, fertilizing, treatment for pests and diseases, deadheading or pruning. If you don’t want to take time to do any of that, it limits your choices.

Once at the nursery and garden center, check leaves, branches and trunks before buying. Avoid plants that look spindly or have wilted foliage.

Ask the staff if you can remove plants from pots to look at the roots. Well-established roots will hold the soil together. Healthy roots will be firm. If the roots are mushy or have a bad odor, make another selection. When looking at balled and burlapped trees, look for a root ball that is whole and firm.

Buying from a reliable garden center that offers a guarantee is the best way to know you are working with someone who properly handles their nursery stock. Big box garden centers just sell the plants that come in. Nurseries repot plants to larger containers when needed to keep the roots – and plant – healthy. You might pay a little more, but your planting endeavor is more likely to result in long-term success – and isn’t that cheaper than re-purchasing the same plant every year?

The questions above are also relevant when buying in the spring, so cut and save this column for your 2018 trip to the garden center!

Mari Lane Gewecke is a Master Gardener volunteer, affiliated with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus program, and a self-employed consultant.

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