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Tips for Buying Healthy Plants

Lockridge is an avid reader who enjoys learning about beautiful garden plants. Among other things, she has worked with a florist.

Most nurseries have money-back guarantees on plant purchases.

Most nurseries have money-back guarantees on plant purchases.

Purchasing plants at the home center can be expensive in the short term; that’s why you should check over your plant carefully before making that purchase. You wouldn’t want to put a lot of effort and money into a plant that isn’t at its best. Making good selections and purchasing healthy plants pays off in the long run because your plant will likely survive from year to year or at least make it to the end of the growing season.

Thankfully, many garden centers and nurseries offer guarantees on their products for a year. Make sure to keep your receipt as proof of purchase just in case your plant dies prematurely.

Don’t just buy any plant that you find attractive; check the label first. Labels often give information as to the type of soil that the plant prefers, sunlight needs, estimated size at maturity, and care instructions. The last thing you would want is to have a humongous plant on your hands when you planned on having a smaller plant in a particular area. Conversely, you might find that the plant requires much more care than you are willing to give.

Bigger isn't always better, small plants are easier to transplant.

Bigger isn't always better, small plants are easier to transplant.

How to Select Plants for Purchase

  • Do a side-by-side comparison. Compare several of the same species side by side at the garden center or nursery to see which plant looks the healthiest. Consider bloom size, overall height, and leaf color.
  • Avoid selecting flowering plants already in bloom. Their “shelf life” may be somewhat limited. It’s best to buy perennials, shrubs and trees while they are dormant.
  • Consider the current shape of the plant. Tall plants may indicate a plant was straining for light. Instead, look for full and compact plants with many stems. Avoid plants that look scraggly or leggy.
  • Select plants without broken or damaged stems. Leaves should be shiny and lush; avoid plants with wilting, crispy brown or yellowing leaves. Also avoid plants that look like they have been pruned; this may indicate the garden center trying to hide a problem.
  • Examine the leaves (top and underside) for insects or disease. Look for holes or spots, mushiness, stickiness, or blackened areas.
  • Inspect the condition of the pot. Reject pots with faded or missing labels, plants with mature weeds in the soil, and pots with roots growing out from the bottom drainage holes.
  • Ease plants from their pot and inspect the roots. Look for light-colored, plump roots. Avoid plants with black or hollow-looking roots that easily fall away from the soil.

How to Store Plants After Purchase

Don’t store plants for too long after purchase; it’s best to get them into place as soon as possible. Although inclement weather may prohibit you from planting your new purchase immediately, make sure to take proper care of the plant.

If you can't plant immediately, select a sheltered location where it won’t receive too much wind or direct sun. Potted plants may tip over in strong winds. If it will be an extended period of time before you’ll be able to put the plant in the ground, consider potting the plant a large container.

Water plant according to label instructions, but monitor moisture levels of the soil. Keep in mind that soil tends to dry out quicker in potted plants than it does when the plant is in the ground.

Helpful Resources

The Spruce: How to Choose Healthy Plants

Gardening Know How: Choosing Healthy Plants-How to Tell if a Plant is Healthy

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.