How to Tell if Plants, Shrubs, and Trees Are Healthy When Buying Them For Your Yard

Are you thinking about adding new plants, shrubs, or flowering trees to your yard now that spring has arrived? No matter where you’re shopping, it’s critical to be able to discern whether or not a plant is healthy before you bring it home. Hometown Landscape is here with a quick guide on how to spot healthy plants, trees, and shrubs next time you’re shopping for additions to your property

What Do Unhealthy Plants Look Like? 

No matter which nursery or home improvement store you’re shopping in, there’s always a chance that the plants, trees, and shrubs there haven’t been properly cared for. This can shorten their lifespan in your yard as well as waste your money and time, especially if you have a short planting window. Here are some signs that the plants you’re about to bring home are unhealthy: 

  • Roots are growing out of the pot. This is a sign that the plant is rootbound and the pot is too small. If not fixed, this issue can eventually kill your otherwise healthy plant. 
  • The plant is lopsided. There are two reasons for this – either the plant was getting too little sunlight and was growing in one direction to “reach” for the light, or that the plant has loose roots that can’t support it. 
  • You can see weeds in the plant. Weeds are annoying enough in one plant – if you bring the plant home, it could spread weeds to the rest of your garden or yard. 
  • There are dead leaves or, worse, dead branches on the plant, tree, or shrub. This signals a sick or dying plant. 
  • The leaves on the plant are discolored. This can be a result of multiple types of deficiencies, none of them good. 
  • There’s a gap between the root ball and the sides of the plant container. This is a sign of underwatering. 
  • The roots are growing in a spiral. This is another sign that the pot is too small for the plant and the plant is root bound.


How to Spot Healthy Plants

Now that you know how to spot plants that are less than healthy, it’s time to learn how to spot healthy plants – these are the ones you want to bring home and integrate into your landscaping. Here are some helpful tips on pinpointing healthy plants at nurseries and home improvements stores: 

  • Look at the leaves. Healthy plant leaves should be evenly colored and full-sized, as well as pliable but firm (they shouldn’t be too soft or too brittle). 
  • Check the branches. This is especially true when shopping for trees; a healthy tree will have well-spaced branches that are evenly distributed around it. 
  • Speaking of trees, look for a straight trunk. You’ll also want to take note of characteristics like flexible branches – a live branch will bend while a dead branch breaks. 
  • Healthy trees should also have green underneath their bark. If you peel back a small piece of bark and scrape with your fingernail, you should see green, even if the tree is still dormant (not blooming yet). Lack of green means an unhealthy or dying tree. 
  • Check the tree’s buds – they should be well-formed at this point and have good growth in between the bud scars (4+ inches). 
  • Check the plant or tree’s roots to ensure they’re growing normally and that the plant is not root bound. You should also check their condition by grasping the plant or tree near the base and picking it up. A healthy plant should be well-rooted, which means you won’t see a hole in the soil when you pick it up. Instead, the entire container should move with the plant when you lift it.
  • Also, keep your eyes peeled for mechanical or animal damage to the plant, as well as sunscald (which is usually characterized by long patches of dead bark). 

Tips for Finding Healthy Plants

Now you know how to spot healthy plants, here are a few more tips on how to best find them: 

  • Buy from reliable nurseries that are knowledgeable about the plants that they sell as well as how to care for them. 
  • Don’t buy plants just because they’re on sale – if they’re not healthy, they’re still a waste of time and money. 
  • Research plants before you buy them to ensure you know how to care for them and also that you can provide the right growing conditions for them before you buy.

Have more questions on how to choose healthy plants, or need assistance enhancing your yard landscaping aesthetics? Let Hometown Landscape guide you down the right path today.