Talking Plant Maintenance at Perry's

It's time to talk plant maintenance. So I turned to an expert: John Cartonia, the manager of Perry's Nursery on Seneca Street in West Seneca.

During our chat, Cartonia gave me some history. Bud Perry, the owner, began his career selling potatoes from a pickup truck. After buying a building at the location he expanded into selling annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs.

As the reputation of Perry's Nursery grew, so did its mission. Perry's got into the landscaping business and eventually developed into one of the largest sources of perennials, shrubs, trees, annuals and bonsai in Western New York.

I personally love this nursery, as its present collection is eclectic, much like my garden. There is always something new to see and, of course, to buy.

John Cartonia began his career at the nursery in the 1960s. The nursery business suited him and his love of plant growing, working with and helping members of the public and perhaps most importantly, beautifying the world.

Cartonia, who works 17-hour days throughout most of the year, and I talked about plant maintenance, and I found him to be quite opinionated, and very amusing. He compared plant maintenance with people, saying that "plants are less maintenance than you or me."

We talked about plant roots, which are ignored by many gardeners who mistreat them and then wonder why their plants don't thrive. Cartonia took a salvia out of a pot, and showed me that the roots were circling the bottom and sides of the rootball.

He says gardener should tease the roots apart before planting: "Don't be afraid of tearing them. That stimulates their growth and the plant's success."

I noticed that the nursery stock was watered by moveable overhead sprinklers rather than by drip irrigation using soaker hoses. Cartonia pointed out that this watering method cleanses the plants, washes off insects, and freshens them (much like placing greens or vegetables in water).

He believes that watering this way keeps Perry's vast stock of plants in top condition. I couldn't argue with this. The plants were green and healthy.

We also discussed planting times and obtaining successful results. Several comments from Cartonia:

Since autumn is approaching, we also discussed mums. The mums (chrysanthemums actually) most people buy have been treated so they set buds to bloom around September. Thus, their energy is going into flower production, not root establishment.

Frequently, when they are planted in the autumn garden they don't have the time to get established before the onset of winter. If there is a great deal of freezing and thawing during a typical winter mums frequently heave out of the ground exposing the roots to the frigid air. They die!

For mum success, gardeners should leave the foliage on the plants after the flowers have faded. Then, they should mulch the plants after the first frost to help them overwinter. Ideally, mums should be planted in the spring so they can establish their roots. Of course, you can always grow mums as annuals. They'll have to be replaced, but at least you'll have fall color in the garden.

Forever Young Magazine - September 2012