Read This Before Buying a Plant at the Garden Center

When buying a plant at the garden center, use these expert tips to get the most bang for your buck every time you go shopping.

A trip to the garden center when buying a plant can be exhilarating—or overwhelming. Try these tried-and-true tips for a thought-out shopping excursion, with expert advice from Proven Winners’ Jessica DeGraaf.

Buying plants at the garden center.
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Plan ahead before buying plants at the garden center.

Before Buying a Plant, Know Your Needs

Jessica compares buying a plant to grocery shopping. “You select a meal and list out the ingredients needed. Gardening is much the same,” she says. Plan ahead to avoid impulse buys that can turn into pricey mistakes. Take stock of your available space, and know your soil, light and water requirements.

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Young, Asian Woman in Garden Center Nursery Examining Hanging Baskets
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Plant tags include a lot of important information.

Read Plant Tags Carefully

Plant tags offer a wealth of critical information. Carefully check the available details to be sure you can meet a plant’s needs and to find out how big it will get. You don’t want to wind up with a 10-foot-tall shrub in a space meant for smaller blooms.

Here’s how to determine your plant hardiness zone.

Woman in apron is transplanting plant into new pot outdoors
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Look at the plant’s roots, not just the leaves and flowers.

Check the Plant’s Roots

When possible, take a quick peek at a plant’s roots. “A healthy plant should be rooted to the bottom of the container, and you should see nice white roots throughout the soil ball,” Jessica says. Avoid buying pot-bound plants, where the roots are wrapped tightly around themselves.

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Dahlia bud
COURTESY LINDA ZIEGLER
When buying plant, consider choosing ones with a lot of buds, like this dahlia plant.

Buy Plants with Flower Buds

Flowers with existing blooms draw the eye, but unless you need instant color in your garden, Jessica suggests looking for plants with healthy foliage and lots of buds. That way, you’ll have gorgeous blooms for weeks to come.

Make sure you get the best potting soil for every type of plant.

Bumble bee on a cosmos bloom
COURTESY GAYLE BESCH
While shopping at the garden center, look for plants that are attracting pollinators like bees.

Follow the Insects

If you’re planning to grow a butterfly garden, let insects show you the way to the best picks with blooms. Take a step back at the garden center to see which plants the butterflies and bees are visiting, and add those to your cart.

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Closeup of Supertunia 'Picasso in Purple' flowers
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Supertunia ‘Picasso in Purple’

Make Your Money Count

“If you’re looking for ways to save a buck, look for plants that have long bloom times or are more vigorous,” Jessica says. “Plants such as Supertunias grow up to 3 feet wide in the landscape. This means that you can plant fewer plants and still get maximum impact.”

Wave Petunia plants blow other petunias out of the water.

garden center shopper
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Scan racks for bargains to get more plants for your money.

Check the Bargain Racks

Many stores have racks with plants that are past their prime, and you can score some real deals if you’re willing to search. These plants are often in great shape but have been moved to the back to make room for new shipments. You just never know what you might find.

Psst—discover more things your landscaper won’t tell you.

Girl buying plant by mother and worker in nursery
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Ask garden center workers for tips and assistance.

Get Plant Buying Advice from Staff

“If you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask,” Jessica says. “Garden center staff want to help you on your plant journey, because their success is tied to yours.” Go during a slower time of day or week to ask them for their favorite picks, and find out when they expect new plants.

Next, read up on never-skip gardening tips from master gardeners.

Jill Staake
Jill Staake's lifelong love of nature turned into a career during the years she spent working with native Florida butterflies, caterpillars, and other wildlife at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa, Florida. During this time, she helped to maintain 30+ acres of gardens and backwoods, all carefully cultivated to support the more than 20 species of butterflies displayed indoors and out. She now writes for a variety of publications and sites on topics like gardening and birding, among others.