How to Buy the Best Annuals

Learn how to make sense of pot sizes and spot the healthiest plants.
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Proven Winners Plants Sausalito Sunset Container

Proven Winners Plants Sausalito Sunset Container

Beautiful annual plantings start with healthy plants.

Photo by: Proven Winners at

Proven Winners at

Beautiful annual plantings start with healthy plants.

Annuals bring foliage and flower power to the garden with their non-stop, season-long show. No other plant delivers the dose of color that annuals do. In pots or planting beds, these plants shine. Learn how to select the healthiest annuals to grow your best garden ever.

You’ll find annuals in containers of many sizes, including tiny three-cell packs, larger 9-cell packs, 2-, 4- and 6-inch pots, quarts and gallons. When should you pay the price for a larger container? That depends.

For economy, you can’t beat the typical 4-cell pack. In beds and pots, many annuals look best when they’re planted in groups of three or more. Packs give you the volume to maintain that natural look at a lower price than individual 4-inch pots. Annuals you bring home in packs may take longer to fill in and create a lush look, but ultimately they present the same show as larger plants.

Always double-check pack prices. Sometimes a garden center will sell 3-cell packs for the same price as 4-cell packs. Ask and compare prices to ensure you’re getting the best deal. Many discount stores and home centers display higher priced 9-cell packs out front to draw customers into the garden area. Most of the time, you can find the same plants in smaller containers further back in the garden center. Take time to look—you could save a bundle.

Pots always cost more, but the plant has a robust, established root system that takes off quickly in the garden or pot. Typically pots with a brand name, like Proven Winners, Burpee or Miracle-Gro, earn a premium price and deliver plants you won’t find in packs.

Inspect plants carefully. Check leaves for signs of mold, rot or spots. In a flat of annuals, fungus problems spread fast. If at all possible, don’t buy packs or pots located near a clearly diseased plant. Avoid annuals with webbing or insects.

Remember to examine stems. If a plant wobbles severely in the container, make sure the stem is healthy. Certain fungal diseases attack stems at the soil line. Once the stem is attacked, it’s only a matter of time until the plant dies.

The best annuals should be well-proportioned in relationship to the pot or pack. Plants that are too tall for the container have been in it too long. You can trim many annuals before planting; you’ll just have to endure a sometimes-gawky look until plants rebound.

Unless you want a specific blossom color, purchase plants that are budded, not blooming. That way you can enjoy the flower show. If you’re aiming for a consistent look by purchasing a flat of the same annuals, double-check plant tags in every pack. Make sure you’re getting the plants you want.

Last but not least, inspect plant roots. Gently squeeze the container and then tip it over while cradling the plant with your hand. Healthy roots are white and have an almost crunchy feel. Brown or black roots or soil that smells sour are problems you don’t want to bring home.

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