Tips for Choosing the Best Plants at a Nursery

By: Nan Ondra
Related To:
Plant Out Bedding Plants for Lush Looking Garden

Plant Out Bedding Plants for Lush Looking Garden

Look for leaves, not blooms, to get the strongest plants.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Look for leaves, not blooms, to get the strongest plants.

Buying new flowering plants for your garden is a big part of the spring gardening thrill, but as you’re filling your cart with blooming beauties,be a smart shopper. Spending a few extra minutes to take a good look at what you’re buying can save you disappointment when you get those plants home.

Look for Leaves, Not Flowers

While it’s tempting to buy plants already loaded with blooms, that’s not always your best bet. When plants are flowering, they’re putting most of their energy into making more blooms and setting seed instead of into producing a sturdy root system that will support healthy growth and abundant bloom over a longer period.

If it’s important to you to get a specific flower color, it’s fine to wait to buy until you can see the blooms for yourself. The picture on the plant’s label may not be true to the real color. In that case, buy as early in the season as you can, just as the first few flowers open. Otherwise, you’re better off choosing leafier plants over those already in full bloom.

Shop Often

Some places get just one or two big shipments of flowers for the spring buying rush, then hold on to the leftovers for the rest of the season, or until they get tired of watering them. If you shop only once a year, you’ll probably end up buying mostly late-spring or early-summer bloomers, because those are the ones that look best at the most popular shopping time. The earliest flowers will be nearly done blooming by the time you get there, and the summer- and fall-bloomers may not have even sprouted yet.

To get the widest selection of healthy, well-maintained flowers, look for nurseries and garden centers that get regular deliveries of new plants, and visit them throughout the growing season. The new stock will have been regularly watered and fertilized by the growers right up to the delivery date, reducing stress on the plants and making it easier for them to settle in once you get them home.

Take a Close Look

As you’re selecting the plants you want, give them a close look before adding them to your cart. Compare your choices to the other plants of the same type to make sure you’ve picked those with a bushy, well-branched shape, sturdy stems, and healthy-looking leaf color. If a few of the oldest leaves are a little yellowish, that’s probably just due to crowding or a minor nutrient deficiency, something that the plants will quickly recover from once you get them in the ground. Avoid those noticeably paler than those around them, though, or that have dark or pale spots on the stems or leaves, because these can be symptoms of bacterial or fungal diseases.

Also, check for signs of pest problems, such as distorted leaves, shoots, or flower buds; holes chewed in the foliage; or speckling or webbing on the upper or lower leaf surfaces. If you see or suspect these sorts of problems, put those plants back on the bench, because you don’t want to take them home to infest the rest of your garden.

Bargain Bench Tips

When you’re trying to stretch your plant-buying budget, it can be worth checking out clearance sections or end-of-the-season sales for bargains.  You still don’t want to buy plants with obvious signs of disease or pest problems.. It’s common to see signs of stress or age, though, such as yellowing leaves, spindly stems, slight wilting, or roots growing out of the base of the pot. But if the plants are priced right, it can be worth taking a chance on them.

Crowded pots can be an especially good deal. Divide each one into two, three, four, or more parts when you get it home, plant out or pot up the divisions, water them carefully to help them recover, and you can end up with loads of vigorous new plants for the price you’d have paid for just one in spring!

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