There’s nothing worse than bringing home a new plant only to have it wilt and die after a few weeks. Though it may seem inevitable with some plants, there are ways to avoid the issue and save some money on replacements. The best method is to learn how to choose healthy plants to ensure they thrive after you bring them home. To help you pick the perfect plants, take a look at our checklist of things to look for when shopping for new ones.
The first step to purchasing healthy plants is checking out the quality of the nursery they come from. Wander around a bit, looking closely at the plants, even those you have no interest in. If you notice a lot of dry soil or wilted foliage in any section, care at the nursery may be lacking.
Good nurseries take care of their plants and understand that presentation matters. There are likely to be a couple of less-than-stellar plants even at a top-notch nursery, but that’s the exception and not the rule.
Consider Local Plants
Plants shipped to your area may add an exotic touch to your home or outdoor garden. The downside is that they may not do well in your climate, requiring special care to survive, especially when placed outdoors. Locally grown plants have adapted to the conditions and are easier to care for.
Working with plants adapted to your climate is always going to be easier. This isn’t as big of a concern when growing indoors, but still something to keep in mind.
Look At The Foliage
One of the best indicators of a healthy plant is its foliage. It should be lush and green, with even coloring over the entire leaf. New growth is also a sign of a healthy plant since it means it is getting enough nutrients and moisture.
Foliage on unhealthy plants could show a few unsightly characteristics. For instance, brown, brittle leaves aren’t getting enough water. Yellow, mushy leaves are likely overwatered. Droopy or wilted foliage could be symptoms of stress from moving, transplanting, or other issues.
Though some issues can be corrected, the plant may be too far gone to bounce back. For the best results, stick with the plants sporting happy foliage.
In some cases though, you may be able to score a discount on sickly-looking plants. That’s a tradeoff to consider.
Check The Stems
Checking the stems is another fantastic way to determine the health of any plant. Beginner gardeners don’t always know what to look for in strong stems. Tallness is often believed to be a good indicator of health, though this isn’t the case.
Tall stems may have become leggy while reaching for the light, which is stressful for the plant. Those long stems may not be able to branch correctly, produce foliage and flowers, or become thick enough to support themselves and eventually flop over. What you want is a stem that isn’t too long or too short, but looks consistent with the rest of the plant.
Another issue to look for is cracks or scars in the stem, which can indicate damage, disease, or pest infestation. Pruned areas can also point to the removal of damaged or diseased areas. Even if the issues are remedied, the plant won’t be as strong as one with blemish-free stems and could be prone to future problems.
Healthy Roots And Root Balls
Roots are buried in the soil, making it tricky to figure out how healthy they are, though there are a few things to look for. First, if the leaves indicate overwatering, there could be root rot below the soil’s surface. Such plants may not be salvageable, dying long before they should.
You can also lift the pot and check the drainage holes to see if any roots are poking out. If so, the plant has become root bound, which means that the roots don’t have enough room in the pot to spread out. They may have broken through the surface of the soil, so look for this as well. With such compacted roots, there may be little room for moisture, causing the plant to dry out.
Though some plants prefer to be somewhat rootbound, a larger pot is required if you bring these home. A bigger container may solve the issue, but in some cases, the plant may already be too stressed to recover. It’s best to avoid rootbound pots.
As for the larger items, like shrubs or trees, the root ball should be solid in a healthy plant. If it is loose, brittle, or broken, the roots are likely dehydrated, which could affect the plant’s growth.
Buds Or Flowers?
A plant covered in gorgeous blooms is eye-catching and lovely to look at but isn’t the best option when purchasing a new plant for your garden. Those flowers won’t last long and actually reduce how well a plant transplants. When a plant is still in the bud stage, it is more resilient and can be moved to a new pot or outdoor garden with less stress. Once it’s situated where you want it, those buds will become flowers, allowing you to enjoy them for their entire lifespan.
A pot with weeds alongside the plant is concerning for two reasons. First of all, weeds can be a sign of neglect, especially if several are in the pot. Weeds also suck up nutrients and moisture that should be used by the plant. If the plant is too deprived of what it needs, it becomes weaker than those in weed-free pots.
Look For Signs of Pests Or Disease
Pests or diseases can destroy a plant, but they can be even more damaging if they spread to other plants, destroying an entire indoor or outdoor garden. Rather than risk the rest of the plants you’ve carefully tended, it’s best to check any potential additions to your home before purchasing them.
There are several signs to watch for to avoid an infestation or epidemic. The foliage may be discolored, with white, yellow, or black patches or spots. There could also be holes, mushy areas, sticky residue, nicks, or webbing on the leaves or stems. You should also check beneath the leaves, along the joint stems, and in the soil for pests, larvae, or eggs.
Follow Your Instincts
It can be tricky to remember the guidelines and tips for choosing a healthy plant. When all else fails, trust your instincts. Go with bushy plants with lush foliage and as little discoloration as possible. Don’t be afraid to touch the plant, either, by checking the soil for moisture or giving it a gentle shake to see if anything falls off. If you’re still unsure which plants to choose, ask an employee for assistance.