Choosing the Best Plants from the Garden Center

tulips at the garden center

You’ve arrived at the garden center, the weather is getting better, and you are ready to shop for new plants to fill in your flower garden. You walk in the door and see an incredible display of annuals, perennials and vegetables and immediately feel overwhelmed and excited. Below I’ve listed some ways to help you choose the best plants from the garden center.

You can make your life easier before you even get to the front door of your local greenhouse with a little bit of planning and preparation.

Where do you start once you enter the garden center?

Make a list

What kinds of plants catch your eye in garden magazines or your neighbors front yard? Make a list of the types of plants that you would like to add to your garden (and keep a pen with you for the garden center!) and include possible alternatives in case your center doesn’t have what you are looking for. It can be helpful to separate this list into annuals, perennials and other (like herbs, shrubs etc) since most greenhouses are split up into these sections.

Make sure you have chosen plants that are appropriate for your gardening zone, micro-climate and sun level for your garden. If you are looking for some plant ideas, be sure to check out my post about my favorite scented perennials for your garden!

choosing plants from the garden center

Plan for extras

Once you are in the greenhouse, you will see many plants that you hadn’t even thought of when you were planning your garden. Make sure you save a little room in your plant budget to purchase some extra plants since you will surely find something new and exciting that you want to try; this is really the joy of gardening! Remember to experiment a little in the garden and try some new plants to keep things exciting.

You probably need to try a pin cushion flower or celosia that you weren’t planning on!

Picking Healthy Plants

When you are choosing your plants there are things you can keep in mind to get your garden off to the right start. If you’re choosing a multi-pack plant package, look to ensure that each cell has a full and healthy transplant in it. You don’t want to purchase a six pack but only get five healthy plants at home.

It can be tempting to choose the plants that have the most flowers on them, since they provide an immediate visual impact, but you will get the most bang for your buck by choosing plants that have lush, green and full foliage with some flowers just starting to bud. This means that the plant is doing well and once it is established in your garden will provide you with flowers quickly. If you purchase a plant that is in full bloom, you will be disappointed when it doesn’t have the same flowers on it a week after you transplant it into your garden. 

Keep an eye out for bugs, and plant health issues such as downy mildew in the plants your are buying. You can learn more about downy mildew here, it is something you should try to avoid. You don’t want anything coming home with you that could spread to the rest of your plants or weaken the new plant.

Transport and Aftercare 

Try to have an open space in your vehicle where you can place your new plants. Make sure that nothing can fall on them during your drive home, especially during turns or accelerations. It can be helpful to have boxes to place your plants inside of to keep them standing upright; the garden center will usually provide you with some sort of plastic or cardboard tray to transport your plants home in.

Once you are home, take your plants out of your vehicle and place them in a sheltered area out of strong wind and sun. They will do best in a part shade or cooler area for a couple days as they adjust to the new conditions. If you have the time, you can help them adjust to their new home outside of the greenhouse just like you would harden off your new seedlings, put them in a sheltered location, water thoroughly and bring them inside if it will get cold.

If you don’t have time (or just don’t want to!) do this transition phase, you can always plant your new purchases directly into the garden once you get home, just remember to keep them thoroughly watered especially in hot sunny conditions, until they get established.

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