The differences between buying plants from local nurseries vs. big-box stores
The two biggest differences between local nurseries and big-box stores are price and the quality of plant care. “Most of the time, plants from local nurseries will receive better care and attention,” says Caroline Copeland, online design expert at Yardzen. At a local nursery, plants will most likely be watered according to their individual needs as opposed to being watered on the same schedule, which often takes place in big-box retailers to streamline the care process of tending to a large selection of plants. “And it’s more likely that you will pick up a diseased or pest-infected plant from a big-box store,” she says.
- Caroline Copeland, Caroline Copeland is a design expert at online custom landscape design platform, Yardzen.
- Maryah Greene, plant expert and founder of Greene Piece
- Nick Cutsumpas, plant coach and urban farmer behind Farmer Nick
- Pat May, Pat May is the founder of Prōpa, an online social platform that lets users upload pictures of their plants and exchange plants for new ones.
One other difference? Plant variety. Big-box retailers typically purchase their plants in bulk, and while you’re likely to find a wide range of plants, they are often limited to the most popular varieties. If you’re on the market for a unique plant species, she recommends paying a visit to your local nursery. Often, the staff at local nurseries will be knowledgeable too, which is ideal for people who want detailed information on which plant to purchase and how to best care for them. Plus, “they’ll be a great ongoing resource during your gardening journey,” says Copeland.
Where should you buy plants—local nurseries or big-box stores?
Copeland recommends buying plants from a local nursery—particularly if you are a first-time gardener. It’ll cost you more than buying from a big-box store, though Copeland says it’s well worth the investment. “The plants are going to be more expensive than those from a big-box store, but having a healthier plant and instructions on how to keep it that way will be worth the extra cost.” As a bonus? When you buy plants from local nurseries, she says, you’re supporting local businesses, too.
Ultimately, though, it’s a matter of preference when deciding to buy plants from local nurseries or big-box stores. If you’re looking to purchase plants from big-box retailers due to budget constraints or simply because of convenience and accessibility, Copeland says it’s important to know how to pick a healthy plant.
How to pick a healthy plant from a local nursery or big-box store
Whether you’re buying from a local nursery or a big-box store, it’s important to select a healthy plant. It stands a better chance of thriving in your home than ones riddled with disease or pests. Maryah Greene, plant expert and founder of Greene Piece, previously told Well+Good, that there are a few tells—vibrant colors, for one thing—that indicate a plant is healthy.
Look for plants showing signs of new growth, says Greene. “New growth is the sign of a healthy plant, regardless of any shedding or discoloration.” she says. Plants with limp or discolored foliage, can also be indicative of pesky houseplant pests, plant coach Nick Cutsumpas (aka “Farmer Nick”), previously told Well+Good. That said, a pest infestation can be tricky to diagnose before the infestation becomes unwieldy or difficult to control. With this in mind, when you bring home a new plant—be it from a quality nursery or a big-box store—you might want to quarantine your plant for a day or two, isolating it from other plants until it has been proven to be pest free.
Alternatives to buying plants from local nurseries or big-box stores
Local nurseries and big-box stores aren’t the only places to get new plants. There are alternatives, some of which will cost you nothing at all:
1. Buy plants online
Those who don’t have easy access to a local nursery or big-box retailer, or would simply prefer to have greenery delivered straight to their doorstep, can buy plants online. There are a number of websites to choose from, and many offer more than just plants, serving as one-stop shops where customers can find gardening tools, pots, planters, and more. The one caveat to online shopping for plants? You won’t know what state it’s in until it arrives at your door. To avoid the risk of buying an unhealthy plant, purchase from a reputable website, and better yet, somewhere that has a return policy.
2. Join a plant swap
For the uninitiated, “a plant swap is typically a community-based event for people who are looking to find new plants or offload some of their existing plants in exchange for new ones,” Pat May, founder of Prōpa, previously told Well+Good. Not just limited to in-person events, there are websites and apps where you can coordinate individual plant swaps. Whether you’re joining or hosting a plant swap party, May says there is one thing to keep in mind, which is to ensure only healthy and pest-free plants make an appearance at the party.
3. Propagate new plants from your existing collection
Propagating your plants is the easiest—and cheapest—way to expand your collection. There are several methods to propagate plants, but the most common is cutting, which is “the method of taking a piece of a baby plant from a mother plant, and reproducing it,” said Greene. You can propagate the cutting of leafy plants, like pothos and monstera, in a water propagation vase, or in soil if you want to reproduce your succulents. In any case, you want to use a pair of shears that are clean and razor-sharp.
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