3 Tips for Buying Nursery Plants

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re all coming out of hibernation and heading to the nursery to do our spring plant shopping. I don’t know about you, but I always buy too much and get distracted by the flowers. I know I'm not alone.

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So as you head out to the nursery, here are a few tips for buying the best flowers for your cutting garden. 

Tip #1. Select your plants based on the foliage, not the flowers. 

It’s probably pretty obvious that of the two plants in the image below, the one on the right is the one to choose. There are way more leaves; the leaves are lush and a vibrant green. This is a way better option for you. But what if the plant on the left had several beautiful spires of flowers. You’d be tempted right? This is especially important for perennials. Plants with lots of foliage will have a stronger root system. Plants with minimal foliage and say a few buds aren’t likely to have as strong of a root system (the plant energy is being directed towards blooming rather than growth). 

Definitely go with the plant on the right. Lots more foliage and great colour in the leaves of this foxglove. 

Definitely go with the plant on the right. Lots more foliage and great colour in the leaves of this foxglove. 

In this case, both plants look healthy, and while I would typically go for the plants that aren't blooming, in this case, I would probably choose the plant on the left. It's a foxglove, which can produce multiple stems from a single plant. There's an existing bloom + there's fresh green growth which will also produce more blooms. Meanwhile, the plant on the right only has one branch that will produce flowers. 

In this case, both plants look healthy, and while I would typically go for the plants that aren't blooming, in this case, I would probably choose the plant on the left. It's a foxglove, which can produce multiple stems from a single plant. There's an existing bloom + there's fresh green growth which will also produce more blooms. Meanwhile, the plant on the right only has one branch that will produce flowers. 

Tip #2. Avoid root bound plants. 

The next thing you want to check out is if the plant is root bound. You can tell this by looking at the base of the pot. If there are thick, stiff roots coming through the drainage holes, then it’s root bound. Rootbound plants will take a bit more work to properly prepare before planting (you need to free up those roots). It’s not to say that you shouldn’t buy them, but just know that they may need more work. And if it’s a flowering shrub (which means it's slower growing and will naturally take longer to get established, it's really best to avoid it). 

Tip #3. Don’t buy stressed out plants. 

I’m always going on about is the health of the garden, and trying to minimize stress on our plants. If you buy stressed out plants, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Looks can be deceiving - a plant may have lots of beautiful flowers blooming on it but it may have few leaves, or leaves that are yellow, diseased, or if it may have weak stems. 

This poor catmint! Best to avoid plants like this, with weak, spindly stems and yellowing foliage. 

This poor catmint! Best to avoid plants like this, with weak, spindly stems and yellowing foliage. 

I was shopping with a friend recently who was fixated on buying a gorgeous hellebore but while the flower itself was amazing, there was very little foliage on the plant, and a couple of the leaves had signs of leaf spot. I gently nudged her towards the put that had no blooms but lots of lush, clear leaves. In the long run, she'll thank me ;)

Images by Kelly Brown.