There are lots of things to consider when buying plants at a garden center. This segment provides tips on how to inspect for damage, disease, root systems, flower buds and more, so that you can bring home a quality plant that will provide enjoyment all season long.

Produced by the Department of Communications at Kansas State University.

Ten Tips for Selecting Plants

When selecting quality plant material, there are several things to consider. The first thing you want to look for is the quality of the storefront. You’ll want to walk up and see a visually appealing storefront with healthy looking plants and people maintaining and caring for these plants.

The second thing you’ll want to look at is the foliage on the plants. You’ll want to make sure that you choose the best quality plants. There are several things that you’ll want to look at. You’ll want to inspect for damage, disease, and insects. If you look at this geranium, for example, you can see that it’s had some damage from the insects in the store. So, you’ll want to bypass that for a healthier specimen.

Next, you’ll want to look at the shape and the size of the plants in the pot. Something smaller and more compact, like this garden mum, is ideal. When you compare it to the geranium, you can see that the geranium is starting to get tall and spindly. And it just doesn’t look as nice to take home as the garden mum, which fits the pot size.

Next, you’ll want to watch for signs of insect and disease damage. These can include things like brown spots, mushiness, and visible signs of chewing from insects. You’ll need to look for small webbing from insects like spider mites. Those are things that you’ll want to avoid bringing to your home landscape.

We really want to bring home plants with healthy, white roots that are going to grow into their pot. This yellow garden mum is a good example. First, lift it out of the pot and look at the bottom. There are some fine hairs, but you don’t see a lot of roots yet. This is a good example of something that is good to purchase and bring home. It means that it has a better chance of survival because it will have a healthier root structure.

With the smaller garden mum, when you take it out and flip it over, you’ll see that there are lots of roots that are starting to get root bound in the bottom of the container. You’ll also want to avoid plants that show the roots sticking out the bottom of the container. This is a good example of something that you’ll want to avoid purchasing. You don’t want to purchase a plant that has lots of roots growing out the bottom – it has overgrown its space.

On this dianthus, you can see that this plant has been overwatered. The roots are starting to turn brown, and they’re starting to die from a lack of oxygen. Again, this is not a plant that you should purchase and bring home.

You’ll want to take a moment and look at the stems. You’ll want to look for visible signs of damage. Avoid tall spindly plants or plants that have a weakened stem structure. And, with woody plants, you’ll want to avoid cracks.

Plants that you purchase in containers in a garden center shouldn’t have weeds in the pots. That means that there is competition between the weeds and the plants for nutrients, water, and energy. So, you’ll want to avoid those plants that have weeds growing in the pots.

When looking at shrubs and trees in a garden center, you’ll want to look at the root structure of those trees. If they’re balled and burlaped, you’ll want to make sure that the burlap is tightly closed. It shouldn’t have any empty holes. Also, it shouldn’t be open which allows the roots to dry out.

You’ll also want to make sure that the roots are buried in large mound of mulch to keep the moisture in. And, if the trees are in pots, the same recommendations apply for the root systems in the annual and perennial plants.

The last thing you’ll want to look at when you’re in a garden center is to take note of the buds and flowers on the plants. You’ll want to take these plants home to enjoy in your landscape. Although this mum is very pretty in the garden center, you’ll want to enjoy the longevity of the flowers. So, ideally, you should buy a plant, like this garden mum, when you can see that it’s getting ready to bloom. It has lots of blooms that haven’t yet bloomed, so you’ll get the enjoyment of a quality plant when you take it home to put in your landscaping.

This feature story prepared with Jessica Milliman, Kansas State University Research and Extension Extension Director, Sheridan County. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at

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