How-to: Shop for Perennial Plants

Blooming plants in the nursery look so pretty!

A shopping trip to the nursery can be loads of fun or it can be terribly overwhelming. Retail nurseries want to sell plants, so of course they display the plants when they are blooming and look beautiful. Strolling through the nursery, I’ve had two different reactions. Either I love them all, grab some impulse buys and have to just hope for the best. Otherwise, I find myself overwhelmed with choices and confused about what would do best for the space and leave with nothing.

Shopping for plants is different than shopping for groceries or clothing. Landscape plants are a longer-term commitment. The best way to shop for plants is with a clear list of what you want. That list comes from making a plan first and shopping second.

Once you have your shopping list, or at least a good idea of what you want, how do you choose a “good plant” from the selection?

  • First, look for the smaller containers. If plants are available in 2.5”,  4.5” , and 1-gallon size pots, get the 2.5”. The plants are easier to set in, will have less stress from the transplanting, and establish quicker. Within a couple of years, you can’t tell which size you planted anyway and it will save you a bundle of money.
  • Next, look for obvious signs of disease or stress. If the plant has leaf spots, dead leaves, etc., ask the salesperson what caused that. Also look for fuzzy bits of mold where there shouldn’t be fuzz. This often comes from over watering and stresses the plant.
  • Finally, compare the plants of the same variety. The plants that were on the edges of the greenhouse often look better than those that were on the inside. Select the plant that looks the best to you.

You should also consider what time of year it is. In early spring, many nurseries have some type of early bird sale (such as Fort Collins Nursery’s Perennial Paloosa). The plants may be smaller since it’s early spring or may be just emerging from dormancy. In this case, the plants may not look great which is why having the list of plants is essential. Late in the fall, the nurseries often have a clearance sale. By that time, the plants have been in their containers for a while and may be somewhat root bound. Again, plants in containers may not look great.

Overall, the best way to shop for plants is with a shopping list. To avoid impulse buying at the nursery, I repeat this mantra to myself: “I will buy a plant because I know it is a good plant, not because it happened to be in bloom.”

Happy Gardening!

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