It’s was a brutal winter for many of us in the northern and eastern parts of the United States, but now it’s FINALLY spring!

Tulips are blooming and lilacs are on the way. As temperatures rise, thoughts of getting out in the garden are on everyone’s mind.

For novices, one of the most disappointing things can be going to the plant nursery, falling in love with particular nursery plants or flowers, then realizing once you get things home and in the dirt that there’s plant disease. (You know this when a plant dies within the first few days after you put it in the ground.)

In the 34-second video we’ve included here, Patricia Becker (director of the Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center) whisks you through 3 keys to avoiding bad nursery plants.

Nursery Plants with Brown or Yellow Leaves

Plants with yellow leaves lack chlorophyll, the miraculous green pigment that lets plants absorb energy from the sun.

“Possible causes include poor drainage, damaged roots, compacted roots, high soil pH, and nutrient deficiencies,” says Sandra Mason, horticulturist at the Univ. of Illinois.

And brown leaves? On many common plants (flowers, ground cover, etc.) they can mean diseases like Botrytis blight (a fungus) or infection by worms called nematodes.

If you’ve got these problems in your garden, there ARE some plant disease solutions. But if you’re in a plant nursery, save your money and avoid them!

Roots Growing Out The Bottom of the Pot

Over-long roots? Not a good sign for nursery plants, says garden author Colleen Vanderlinden.

“This means,” Colleen says, “that the roots have filled every available space in the pot, most likely by growing around in circles, and have tried to escape the pot to find water and nutrients.”

“This plant will definitely suffer from transplant shock, and likely will never thrive in your garden.”

Bottom line (pun intended): If you see a plant like this, set it down, walk away, and save your money.

Nursery Plants with Stem Problems

Check the plant’s stem, says horticulturist Barbara Eisenstein. While the Chow video warns about stems that are long, Barbara goes even further.

She advises checking the bottom of the stem — she calls it the collar or crown — just above the roots. Look for damage and breakage, she says.

“Make sure that the collar is not buried,” Barbara says. Plants left in pots too long sink down in the pot. “Unscrupulous nursery workers may then just “refurbish” the pot with a scoop of new soil.”

“This is very bad! The collar is buried, susceptible to disease, and the plant was sitting in old, tired soil for way too long.”

It’s not always easy to see whether the collar is buried. Younger plants, like those in 1-gallon containers, generally do not have very woody stems. If the stem is woody, then you may want to ask the nursery staff to check around the collar for you to make sure it is at the correct height.”

Other Suggestions on Buying Nursery Plants?

If you’re an expert gardener, you won’t need to hear these tips, but I found it helpful to see what Patricia talks about in the nursery plants video.

Now, I know there are a lot of expert gardeners out there. What tips do you have to help beginners? For example, when I first started gardening, I didn’t know that I had to deadhead my marigolds and roses but not my lantana. Another major mistake I made in the beginning was buying pretty pots with no drain holes. That error cost me some bright orange New Guinea impatiens I really loved.

Can you give any other suggestions?
Share a thought!