The Dos and Don’ts of Plant Shopping

Brandon Brooks

Most gardeners see plant shopping as a hobby, but it can also be a craft. Over the years, I have become a better shopper when it comes to plants. Below are the things I look for.

  1. When shopping for shrubs or deciduous trees, watch out for brown or torn leaves. These are likely a sign that the tree has been through a trauma in shipping. When a plant is handled carelessly through shipping, they may suffer through hard winds, scalding sun, and dehydration. Yes, the plant may recover, but you may not want to chance it.
  2. Look for yellowing leaves. Yellow leaves are typically a sign of roots that are damaged. Roots can be damaged if the nursery doesn’t water as often as needed or if the plant is in a spot that is too hot or sunny. If you are allowed, take the plant out of its container. Make sure the tips of the roots are white and crisp and not black or brown.
  3. When buying a tree, check its trunk. Make sure there are no cuts or bruises in the bark or scars from old injuries. Scars can be a place for disease and decay to enter the tree.
  4. Look for cut branches and stubs. These could be a sign of poor care or unskilled pruning. It is possible that the tree or shrub had some die-back, though, and that the caretaker cut it back instead of getting rid of the unhealthy plant.
  5. When buying a conifer, run your hands through the needles. If they are dry feeling, they have likely been allowed to dehydrate before and the roots were probably damaged. A conifer has a hard time recovering from this.
  6. If buying a tree or shrub that is balled and burlapped, check the root ball. If the ball is flattened or sagging, or the burlap is rotting, the plant has likely been sitting in the nursery for a while, reducing the chances for it to survive when transplanted.
  7. Buy your plants when they are young. Larger plants have a harder time during transplant. The younger ones tolerate it much better and tend to recover much faster. They will generally outgrow larger varieties in the long run. The good thing is, they are generally cheaper to purchase as well.

By following these tips, hopefully you will be able to find the plants that will thrive in your environment and give you years of enjoyment.