When it comes to getting started with your garden, you have two choices; planting seeds or buying established plants. Both have their own benefits. If you plant seeds and care for them every day, you will find it is a much more rewarding experience when you have a full, healthy plant. However, this method is a lot more risky.
If you choose to buy an established tree, shrub or flower from a greenhouse and install it in your garden, you’ll reduce the amount of work involved in making it healthy. Increase your gardening success rate by learning to choose the healthiest plant of the bunch. Here I will discuss some of the techniques I use in my screening process for plants.
It may sound superficial, but the one thing you need to check for in your prospective plants is how nice they look. As far as plants go, you can truly judge a book by its cover. If a plant has been cared for properly and has no diseases or pests, you can almost always tell by simply looking at it. If a plant has been grown in poor soil, or has been infested with insects, you can tell from the holey leaves and wilted stems.
If you’re browsing the nursery shelves looking for your dream plant, you want to exclude anything that currently has flowers. Plants are less traumatized by the transplant if they do not currently have any flowers. It’s best to find ones that just consist of buds.
Always check the roots before you purchase a plant for the garden. Of course if the roots are in absolutely terrible condition you will be able to tell by looking at the rest of the plant. But if the roots are just slightly out of shape, then you probably won’t be able to tell just by looking at it. Inspect the roots very closely for any signs of brownness, rottenness, or softness. The roots should always be a firm, perfectly well formed infrastructure that holds all the soil together. One can easily tell if the roots are before or past their prime, depending on the root to soil ratio. If there are a dense mass of roots with little soil it may have been out of the ground for a long time.
If you find any abnormalities with the plant, whether it be the shape of the roots or any irregular features with the leaves, you should ask the nursery employees. While usually these things can be the sign of an unhealthy plant, occasionally there will be a logical explanation for it. Always give the nursery the benefit of the doubt. After all, they are professionals who have been dealing with plants for years.
So if you decide to take the simple route and get a plant from a nursery, you just have to remember that the health of the plants has been left up to someone you don’t know. Usually they do a good job, but you should always check for yourself. Also take every precaution you can to avoid transplant shock in the plant (when it has trouble adjusting to its new location, and therefore has health problems in the future). Usually the process goes smoothly, but you can never be too sure.