How To Choose Plants Wisely at the Nursery

Every once in a while I can't help buying a sad, lonely plant that I think I can rehabilitate, especially if I see the magic word 'sale'. But plants—and seedlings especially—are not like a sad little puppy. You need a great start to ensure great results. Here's a short list of things to look for:

  • When buying from an ocean of seedlings (like the packs of Impatiens, for example) don't grab the nearest one. Take a look overall and see if any group looks healthier than the others.
  • Look for plants that have been displayed with care. Hot sunny sidewalks for small packs of seedlings or uneven watering can take their toll on these young plants.
  • If you are buying seedlings, check to make sure there is only one per cell/pot. Although a few growing in one pot may look lush, they are all competing with each other.
  • Look for the absence of yellow leaves, black leaf spots, or blackness at the base of the stems. These all can indicate disease. If you see any sign of tiny insect life, be cautious.
  • Look for deep green leaves and compact growth. In the beginning this is important, and the less flowers the better.
  • Unopened buds are good–much better than many open flowers. If you buy a flowering plant you may want to pinch off flowers to help promote root growth on your new plants or give it a rest as it settles in.
  • When buying larger plants make sure the plants are not greatly out of proportion to the pot. This could indicate that the plants are root-bound.
  • If lower leaves are yellow, or if you see a wide gap between the growing pot and the soil, both can indicate that the plants were left without sufficient water at one point.

Although not related to the health of the plant you choose, I did want to say that with bedding plants (again, think Impatiens) the flats with smaller cels will dry out faster and need to be transplanted quicker. And in a perfect world all growers would be using biodegradable pots (like in the photo above), some of which can be composted, while others can be planted with the plant. But they still seem to be the exception and not the rule, and may be harder to find.

Do you have any hints for choosing your good plants? Let us know! We'd love to hear how you pick the best, or if any of the hints above have ever been helpful.

(Image: Matthew Noiseux)

(Re-edited from a post originally published on 4.30.2010 - CM)