How to Choose Healthy Plants

Young woman checks label on plant in garden centre
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Starting your garden with plants that are healthy and vigorous will give you a huge advantage. Healthy plants will establish themselves faster and will require less fussing and maintenance. The faster plants become established in your garden, the sooner they will start to fill out and bloom or begin producing fruits for you.

At first glance, all the plants in the nursery look healthy, lush, and glorious.

Usually they are. However there are times when a few quick checks can prevent you from bringing home a lemon. Take some time to look over your purchase, before you introduce a problem into your garden. Here are some things to check for, before you bring a plant home and introduce it into your garden.

What to Look for in a Healthy Plant

  1. Quality of Nursery or Garden Center: Take in an overview of the plant department. Look to see that the majority of the plants seem healthy and well cared for. If there are a lot of wilted or browned plants in one section, chances are good the rest of the plants are not being given great care.


  2. Foliage: Evaluate the condition of your specific plant. Are the leaves green, shiny and lush? Steer clear of any plants that are wilting or yellowing. Stressed plants may not recover. This is especially important if you are buying annuals and vegetables. These plants won't have time to rally.


  1. Shape: Consider the shape of the plant. Is it compact and full, with multiple stems? Taller is often not better. It could mean the plant has been straining for light and has grown thin and spindly.


  2. Insects & Disease: Inspect closely for signs of insects or disease. Check both sides of the leaves and the potting soil. Signs can include: blackened areas, holes, spots, mushy areas, stickiness and distortions.


  1. Root System: Don’t neglect the roots. If the plant is pot bound and the roots are growing out of the bottom, the plant may be stressed and take time to recover. If there aren’t many roots and the plant lifts out very easily, it was probably recently repotted and could use more time to become garden worthy.


  2. Stem Damage: If the plant has a thick or woody stem, make sure there are no cracks or scars. Even prior damage can weaken a plant.


  3. Weeds: Weeds in the pot are competing with the plant for nutrients. They also signal some neglect on the part of the nursery staff. The last thing you want is introduce a new weed into your garden.


  4. Root Ball: When buying a balled-and-burlapped tree or shrub, the root ball should feel solid. If it appears broken, there’s a good chance the roots have had a chance to dry out and the plant will suffer.


  5. Buds & Flowers: Although it's tempting to want to buy a plant that is already covered in flowers, plants in bud will transplant and thrive better than plants in flower. Besides, the existing flowers will fade quickly. You'll get a longer bloom time at home if you purchase a plant that is in bud.


  6. When All is Said and Done: If you’ve just got to have it, go ahead and buy the plant. With a little pampering, it just may defy the odds.


    Bonus Tips for Choosing Healthy Plants

    1. Plants on sale at the end of the season may be bargains, but check them carefully. They may have been sitting in that pot all summer and be root bound or they may have a lot of weeds hiding under the leaves at the base of the plant.
    2. Be especially careful of houseplants. Any houseplant pest brought into a confined area will spread quickly.