Gardening Tips

How To Pick a Plant That’s Happy and Healthy—And What To Avoid

Tehrene Firman

Tehrene FirmanJuly 24, 2020

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There really isn’t anything worse than picking out a plant you love, spending (a lot) of money on it, only to have it die a couple weeks later. But before you ban yourself from your local greenhouse, there’s something you should know: When it happens that quickly, it’s probably not your fault… if you know how to pick a plant.

According to Maryah Greene, plant expert and founder of Greene Piece, there’s a 1 to 2 week period after bringing a plant home where things can go south. And if your plant does die or look pretty sad that quickly, it was probably already unhealthy and/or unhappy when you bought it. “This is often hard to tell because the roots are impossible to see when you purchase a plant. However, if you start to see the plant deteriorate or lose its spunk within the first seven days of bringing it home, you may have purchased an unhappy plant,” says Greene.

To make sure you have the best possible chance of keeping your new plant alive and healthy once you bring it home, there are some things Greene says to look for… and, maybe more importantly, things to avoid.

How to pick a plant at the greenhouse

3 things to look for in a healthy plant

1. Vibrant colors

When you’re looking at a plant, pay close attention to the color. “Are the greens really green, or are the leaves showing some fading/discoloration?” Greene says. “This isn’t always the biggest problem, but it’s often an indication of an unhappy plant that may have received too much sun.”

2. No wilting

If you see a plant that’s wilting, you might want to choose another instead. “A healthy plant supports itself,” says Greene. “Every now and then, you’ll find a larger and stockier plant supported by a bamboo stake which is totally fine. But if you find any slumped over stems accompanied by any brown spots on leaves, this isn’t a good sign.”

3. New growth

One of Greene’s top suggestions on picking a healthy plant is looking for something that already has new growth. “This is how I pick my client’s plants. I always go for the one on the shelf that has the new baby leaves sprouting from it,” she says. “New growth is the sign of a healthy plant, regardless of any shedding or discoloration.”

3 things to avoid when buying a plant

1. White/cotton buildup

Bringing home a plant with pests doesn’t just make it hard to keep that plant alive, but it puts your other plants at risk, too. “Mealy bugs are a common houseplant pest that people find. They like to develop and hide in the crevices of leaves and stems, and they can be really hard to get under control once you have an infestation,” says Greene. “If you ever see any on a plant, do not bring it home.”

2. 3-in-1 plants

While it’s tempting to get a plant arrangement that has multiple types of plants in one pot, avoid it. “People struggle to care for them because each plant in the arrangement has completely different lighting and watering needs,” she says. “Buy your plants individually to make caring for each of them so much easier.”

3. Curbside discount

It’s hard seeing a lonely plant in the sale section that looks like it just needs some love. Unfortunately, they’re there for a reason. “When plant shops or nurseries find a pest or fungus problem with a plant, they often isolate it from other plants to prevent an infestation. Thus if you see a discount plant outside, it’s likely not worth the trouble that’s attached in caring for it,” says Greene. “With that being said, an overwhelming majority of my plants are discount plants that had broken or sad leaves inside of a plant shop that I was able to get a discount on. But I wouldn’t advise claiming the ones outside that are on ‘sale'”

Experts Referenced

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