Should Have Known Better

You may have read  my earlier post where I wrote about how I wanted to grow morning glories (Ipomoea tricolor) on my new tuteur.

Garden tuteur
New tuteur, without morning glories.

Judy and I have a history with morning glories. We grew it in our first garden, if you can call it a garden. We had just moved in together, into an apartment on the third floor of an old three flat.

There was a rectangular yard behind the building, surrounded by a chain link fence, with an alley on one side and a row of four story apartment buildings on the other. The flora consisted of scruffy grass and weeds. There was also a dead evergreen tree, about three feet tall, that the landlord had planted in the center of the yard in a vain attempt at beautification.

Yet Judy and I were undaunted. We could make our first garden! With the landlord’s permission, we planted the seeds of morning glory ‘Heavenly Blue’ on the fence along the alley. The morning glories grew fast and completely obscured the chain link. In the morning they displayed large sky blue blooms that closed after lunchtime. Judy and I were thrilled every time we saw the fence covered in flowers, transformed into something beautiful.

Morning Glory Heavenly Blue
Morning Glory ‘Heavenly Blue’. Photo from

We’ve grown morning glories in other gardens since then, always from seed and always ‘Heavenly Blue’, but not in the last few years.

Anyhow, enough history. Shortly after the middle of May I went to Anton’s garden center to find some seeds for ‘Heavenly Blue’. But before I bought the seeds, I saw that they were selling morning glory plants in little baskets. Oh, I thought, maybe these plants will bring me a week or two closer to having my tuteur covered with blue blooms. So I plunked down $6, several times the cost of a seed packet, and off I went.

Dumb. First of all, the roots did not fill the container, so when I removed the plant, the medium fell apart. The morning glories lost a bunch of roots as a result.

And once planted, they sulked and went into decline. The cool spring weather didn’t help, as these are plants who like it warm.

So a week later I went back to Anton’s to buy morning glory seeds. Before I got the seeds, though, I saw that they had more morning glory plants, these from a different grower. The vines looked so sturdy, the leaves so glossy, just a few inches tall, but still. I thought – why not? This time I plunked down $7.

You know how this ends, right? Some of the sturdy vines snapped during planting. Afterwards, these plants also sulked towards oblivion.

So another week goes by. It is now early June. Finally, I go to buy seeds, and actually buy seeds. I soaked them overnight, and planted them the next day. I await their emergence.

So what have we learned here? Something I kind of already knew, but forgot as a result of the mind control rays secretly emitted by most garden centers. Namely, it’s not worth paying for some plants as plants, seeds are cheaper and better. Morning glories are one of those.

This post is written as part of the Lessons Learned meme hosted by Beth at Plant Postings.

50 Comments on “Should Have Known Better”

  1. Ack! We’re hoping to pull out the rest of our morning glories growing on thefence this summer! I wish I could send you mine, as they are sprouting all over our garden and never die here in California! Good luck!

  2. Gosh, that sounds so familiar. Sorry you had to plunk down the $$$ before settling on the seeds. I had the opposite thing happen this year. I went with strong, established Clematis and Foxglove plants instead of settling on puny seedlings. So far, so good (I don’t want to jinx it). Thanks for joining in the meme!

  3. As a child, my family had a chain link fence covered with blue morning glories. I loved the sight, but as an adult, somehow I have never got around to planting them in my own garden. Thanks for the reminder, and I will be sure to plant seeds.

  4. Well I hope those seeds catch up and start shooting soon…. I have had similar experiences with “plug plants”. They have never worked for me… this year it was parsley. I should have sown my own! We live and learn (or don’t as in my case!) 😉

  5. Argh. How frustrating. Just after you’ve talked yourself into justifying the price tag for the benefit of short-term results, the short term results wave and walk away. We’ve all tried variations on that!! Hope the plants settle in better, and your seeds germinate strongly and overtake them.

  6. Good lesson learned :-). Whenever buying plants, I always check for lots of root coming out from the bottom. People say that’s not good because that means the plant is root bound, but I don’t care. I always got good results so far.

  7. Morning glory is another plant I’ve only had to buy once. It reseeds all over the place-even in the river rock at the base of the trellis. I pull out all but half a dozen or so of the seedlings and let the rest go wild until frost takes them down in the fall.

  8. Good to know! I’ve never had luck with Heavenly Blue plants or seeds but think they’re beautiful! On the other hand Grandpa Ott reseeds politely for me each year and the gorgeous white morning glory aka bindweed gets pulled constantly.

  9. I start morning glories indoors myself, but I plant the seeds in the little pots that biodegrade, so I don’t have to pop them out. I have pretty good luck with it. I also direct sow some seeds, and I always have quite a few volunteers. I do get some earlier blooms from the “plugs”. Most of my morning glories are descendants of a cupful of what I think are ‘Grandpa Otts’ (red-violet) that my daughter brought home for me in second grade, five years ago. This year I am trying Heavenly Blue and a couple other varieties. I did a little test and discovered that the seeds I soaked first germinated only slightly more quickly than the seeds I planted dry, and by the second week, I couldn’t tell the difference between the soaked and unsoaked seedlings.

  10. Once upon a long time ago, gardeners were patient creatures.. I am talking about the late 1940a.There were no garden centers, just seed stores, like Nicholson’s in Dallas. A whole wall was taken up with packets of flower and vegetable seeds. Few plants were sold, mostly flats of pansies, with about six small leaves, at least a month from flowering. We did not have to see plants blooming in order to know that they were garden worthy. Today, a single zinnia plant, 8 inches high and topped with its first flower, selling for $3.99 or more, fresh from a wholesale greenhouse, is a common sight in a garden center. But there is a price for such “convenience.” We have lost all connection with the all-important world of seeds and germination.

    • Going to Home Depot and seeing Echinaceas blooming in April makes me grit my teeth. I always felt this is a form of plant abuse. I have wanted to start seeds indoors, but as noted above, my travel schedule makes that hard to do. I’m afraid morning glory is all I grow from seed, though I do buy a lot of my perennials bare root.

  11. Jason I feel your pain. I’ve done the very same thing with morning glories, now I’m a seed guy all the way for that vine. I shake my head when I see pony packs for nasturtiums, or corn plants or sweet peas, I want to stand guard and initiate the uninitiated gardeners, by explaining that seeds would be a better bet in these instances. PS – I really like flying saucer morning glory.

  12. So that’s why my morning glories died! I have never had any luck with them. Haven’t tried for years. I now prefer tried and trusted perennial climbers.

    Actually, I have learned to turn every potted plant I buy over and check the root growth. If I’m not sure that all is well i tap out the entire rootball and check for deficiencies or parasites. The nurseries I frequent know all about cautious gardeners and wouldn’t bat an eyelid. These are not ‘shops’ but proper, green and dirt encrusted acres for the garden freak.

  13. I have a fraught relationship with morning glories. I love them, but they are difficult to grow in Maine where warm soil comes late and frost can come in August! Like you, I have learned that they don’t transplant happily. Last year, none of my morning glory seeds ever germinated; this year I have three plants coming up from the whole packet of seeds. Let’s hope those three make it.

    I did plant morning glories in my Gettysburg garden before I left there, and I hope to get back there in August and find them blooming profusely on my patio fence.

  14. Hi Jason, that’s a familiar story to many of us I would guess. I prefer to grow from seed whenever I can (mainly because I am cheap) so I can feel a slight smug satisfaction when I go around the garden centre and see single plants selling for many times the single seed packet that I sowed and raised an army of plants from. Sometimes, though, I give in to wanting instant impact or am just behind and so plump for the easier (but more expensive) option.

  15. Oh, how I can relate to this, Jason! I’ve never bought morning glory plants before, but I’ve done a lot of similar foolish things two or three times before I learned my lesson:) I can proudly say I’ve passed up cosmos in the garden centers–far too easy to plant those seeds rather than pay for little seedlings that I would probably kill, too.

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