Spring Annuals: Why won’t my flowers GROW?

Have you ever bought a 6-pack or a few small pots of bedding plants, brought them home and planted them, then had them just sit there like a bump on a log?  No new green growth, no new buds, just….a still life in your garden.

I’ve had it happen with begonias, impatiens, lobelia, marigolds, mums, and even bacopa.  They don’t die or brown or wilt, they just fail to thrive.

“Oh hi!  We’re still here!  Still tiny!  Nothing to see, move along!”

You might overwater them in frustration, feed them, sing to them.  Nothing doing.  You had visions of lush hanging baskets or a carpet of color, and so you wait.  And wait.

Why does this happen?  Plant growth regulators.

Growers produce a crop to be ready at a certain time and look a certain way.  Spring bedding plants should be healthy and vigorous, but compact.  No one wants leggy delphiniums at the start of the season.  So growth regulators (PGRs) are applied during production to keep plants from getting too large or too leggy.  Applying PGRs is an art form: too much and you smoke the crop, too little and the plants aren’t the size you want (or the size the big-box store specified they wanted).  The wrong PGR: no flowers at all, or nothing but flowers and little foliage, or Easter lilies that are 4-inches tall.  It’s easy to miss the mark.

In an effort to time shipments and keep the plants saleable for as long as possible, PGRs might be liberally applied, and it takes some plants a long while to metabolize them and start growing again.  It can takes weeks or even months.

If you buy from a good independent garden center, this probably won’t happen very often. One thing you can do is to watch brands and the name of the grower on the plant label: buy enough plants and you’ll learn quickly who has a handle on PGRs and who has a too-heavy hand.  Some growers don’t use them at all, and they’re more common on annual plants than on perennials.  When they’re used correctly though, you won’t even notice.

You’re probably not a brown thumb.  There’s no magic involved.  It’s just PGRs.

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