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Ag department offers tips for landscaping purchases

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is reminding consumers to check viability and hardiness before purchasing trees, shrubs and other plants for landscaping.

Already this spring, MDA nursery inspectors have found dead and damaged packaged plants in some Minnesota stores. Inspectors have found stores selling plants that are in poor condition. They've also found stores carrying plants that are labeled for growing in Minnesota's hardiness zone (a temperature range based on location) but in reality will not likely survive our extreme low winter temperatures.

"Consumers are protected from mislabeled or unhealthy plants by Minnesota laws we enforce," said Geir Friisoe, MDA's Plant Protection Division Director. "Proper care of plants displayed for sale is critical to survival. No green thumb can save a plant that has been significantly damaged in its early life stages."

Damage can occur due to improper care and handling. Plants packed in plastic bags are intended to be kept dormant until they are planted. To maintain dormancy, plants should be kept cold but protected from freezing. Stores often display dormant packaged plants inside the store where temperatures encourage growth. Once this growth has begun, energy stored in the plant is reduced and, though some growth may occur, the plant is stressed and is not likely to thrive. If this growth begins, retailers are required to remove these plants from sale.

Minnesota is in four separate hardiness zones and while state law requires label accuracy, including hardiness on the label is not required. Plants not meant for Minnesota's climate are unlikely to thrive here, regardless of the care that is provided. Fruit trees that are not hardy may survive but will not likely produce fruit.

To ensure consumers are purchasing viable and hardy nursery plants, the MDA offers the following advice:

--Plan ahead and make sure the plants you select are hardy for the area where they will be planted.

--Plants in plastic bags should be kept dormant. Once growth begins these plants should be planted or potted immediately. Check for soft or mushy roots which could indicate rot.

--Dormant plants can be planted as soon as the ground has thawed. However, newly planted stock can be damaged by freezing and frost. It may be better to wait until potted plants are available instead of buying packaged plants when it may be too early to plant.

Consumers can refer to the University of Minnesota Extension website for plant selection and planting recommendations.