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How to tell which plant to buy when shopping at your local nursery?

NurseryYou want to add some new plants to your garden, so you make the trip to your local nursery to pick some up. Once you find the species you're interested in your faced with maybe 10 - 20 pots of the same plant—how do you know which plant is the best?

You obviously don't want to purchase any plants that appear to have a disease such a powdery mildew, just make sure that the plant has powdery mildew and isn't just liquid fertilizer residue that is often found on nursery stock. Look for discolored leaves or signs of any insect infestations. Look for new growth on the plant—this is a good sign of a healthy plant.

Make sure the plant is labeled. Nothing worse than finding out what you bought, isn't what you thought you were buying a month later. Plant labels often list the tendency of the plant's expected growth. Use this as a guide only and not as a hard rule. Plants often are grown at home in completely different circumstances than those that were field tested. You do want to pay attention to the planting requirements on the label. This will tell you if the plant requires full sun, full shade, or partial shade. Obviously you don't want a plant requiring full sun when the space you have planned on placing it is in full shade all day. Full sun means at least 8 hours of sunlight, full shade means no more than Plant Label2 hours of sunlight, and partial shade/sun is about 4 hours of sunlight.

Look for healthy growth on top and in the roots

Check the shape of the plant compared to others in the group. If the plant is a multi-stem species, look for the one that has more stems. Numerous stems indicates that the plant is more mature than its brothers on the lot. The more mature plant will be more likely to adapt quicker to your garden space.

The final inspection should include a quick look at the root system. Gently slide the plant from the pot so you can see the root ball. Look for healthy white roots as well as some soil. Avoid plants that are all roots and no soil. This is a root bound plant and will take longer to adapt. This is more of a consideration when buying plants in larger containers (1 gallon and larger)and less so in flats of flowers. Pots with roots growing out of the bottom can be ignored (remove these roots before planting). When doing this in-store inspection, carefully replace the the plant in the pot so it will remain viable for someone else.

Blooming or not blooming?

A few blooms are ok, but avoid a plant that is in full bloom. Choose a plant with lots of buds, to one that has few or no buds. Don't worry about not having any of the buds in bloom. If the root system looks good, no blemishes on the leaves and stems and there are plenty of buds, you can be confident that the plant you're taking home is a good quality plants.

MarigoldsChecklist by plant type


  • Buy buds over blooms

  • Look for healthy growth both top and bottom

  • Fewer roots growing out of the bottom


  • Good healthy growth top and bottom

  • Plants with multiple stems or crowns

  • Avoid plants that don't have many buds. Instead look for one that has plenty of buds and a few blooms or no blooms at all. Blossoms in the nursery will be gone in short order and you'll miss one of the major highlights of your new garden addition. It's tempting to take a home a plant in full bloom, but you'll get more enjoyment out of one this is loaded with buds.


  • Good branch structure

  • No insects or insect damage

  • Good formed root mass with evenly distributed root system

  • Full growth instead of taller growth

  • In large potted plants, stick your finger into the soil about to your first knuckle. If all you feel is soil, look for another plant. You want to be able to feel some root growth