The starting point to a successful garden is to buy strong, healthy
plants that establish quickly and give a good display. Shop around for
the best plants, and check them over first to find the healthiest
How to Spot Healthy Plants
To find the healthiest specimens, compare several examples of the same
plant at garden centers and nurseries. Avoid any with obvious problems,
such as broken stems, sparse growth, or signs of pests and disease. Also
steer clear of plants that don’t appear fresh, with old growth,
tired-looking compost, and faded or missing labels. Inspect the plants
fully, and ease them from their pots to check the condition of the root
The best time to buy and plant perennials, shrubs, and trees is while
they are dormant from fall to spring. ` you might prefer to wait until
spring when new growth shows. Evergreen perennials should be planted in
mid-to late spring so that they can toughen up before the following
winter. (Container-grown types can be planted at any time, as long as
you keep them well watered.)
For healthy perennials, look for plants with plenty of stems emerging
from the compost. You can plant perennials and shrubs in full flower,
but they will be slower to establish. It is preferable to pick plants in
bud or those that have finished flowering. When deciding between new
trees and shrubs, look out for balanced, well-branched plants with
plenty of new growth or buds.
Check Plant Labels
It is easy to be tempted into buying attractive looking plants on
impulse at garden centers, but check the label to make sure they are
suitable for your soil and site. Check the plant’s eventual height and
spread too, to be sure it will fit your space.
Any questions? If you’re still not sure about a plant after reading the
label, ask an employee for advice.
It is best to plant new plants within a few days of buying them to help
them establish quickly. That might not always be possible however,
especially if the weather is wet or you are in the middle of a garden
project. Container-grown plants will be fine for a few days if kept well
watered. If you need to store them for longer, move them to a sheltered
spot so they don’t blow over, and keep them out of full sun, or they
will dry out too quickly. For longer-term storage, it may be a good idea
to re-pot them into large containers. This will also avoid checking
Bare root plants sold in fall or winter are at a greater risk of drying
out and frost damage than container-grown plants and need protection. As
a temporary measure, “heel” plants into the soil, which involves
burying the roots in a trench or hole. Choose a sheltered site in
free-draining soil, and keep the plants well watered. Plant them out
into their final positions before new growth appears in the spring.
If you are unsure when you will be able to plant out bare root plants, consider potting them and standing them in a sheltered spot. Keep well watered and fed, and they will survive into summer.
Checklist for Choosing Container-Grown Plants
When buying any new container-grown plants, it’s a good idea to give
them a quick check before taking them home. It will only take a few
minutes for each plant and is a useful way to avoid potential problems
or costly disappointments.
Don’t feel awkward doing this in garden centers and nurseries, since
they only want to sell healthy plants anyway. Most reputable stores
guarantee their plants for at least 12 months, so keep your receipt as
proof of purchase in case of any problems.
- Signs of care are a good guide to how well a plant has been looked after. Look for plants that have been well supported with neat, tied-in growth and fresh compost. Avoid any plants that are tangled, straggly, or scruffy.
- Reject pots with mature weeds, because this suggests plants have not been well maintained; you will also avoid introducing weed species to your garden. Moss-covered pots should be rejected for the same reason.
- Look under the pot to see if there are roots growing through the drainage holes. Just a few suggests a healthy root system; lots of roots indicate the plant is pot-bound and should be avoided. Remove the pot to check.
- Check the roots to see if they are healthy. Look for pale, plump roots
and clear signs of new growth. Avoid plants with dead, black, or hollow
roots that fall away from the compost. Also avoid plants with congested