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Top 10 Tips for Plant Shopping 

June 2019

Michele Mackinnon

The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies. ~ Gertrude Jekyll


When a tiny pot of Crayola-colored pansies triggers a raging case of spring fever, the cure is a trip to the garden center for some horticultural therapy. These trips may end in impulse choices and a horticultural hangover. It’s what you know before you leave home that leads to plant shopping success.


1) The Gardener’s Golden Rule: the right plant in the right place.

  • Match a plant’s needs to your garden conditions and the care you can provide.

  • Refer to printed cards or tags provided with plants for their desired growing conditions. If you love big, bold blooms needing full-day sun but your yard is mostly shady, chose a different plant.


2) Start small, even if you have big ideas. 💡

  • Are there gaps in your landscape? Focus on filling those first before making impulse purchases. Having loads of plants to find places for can raise stress levels in the busy spring season.

  • Containers are an easy way to garden. They are also good holding places until you find a place for impulse purchases in your landscape.

3) What color(s) and style is your house? 🏠

  • Take pictures and refer to them when shopping. Echo decorative details and paint colors when selecting plants, pottery, and ornamental objects.

  • Select plants with leaf and flower colors that contrast with house colors, particularly for foundation plants.

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Photo credit: Michele MacKinnon

4) Will plants have room to stretch out? 📏

  • Measure your garden area, note dimensions, and buy only enough plants for that space. Check tags for a plant’s mature height and width, as well as spacing.


5) Are you living in a wind tunnel? 💨

  • Choose an evergreen tree to slow winds down and add privacy to exposed areas. There are tree options for almost any size space or growing conditions.


6) Water—the elixir of healthy, happy plants 🚰

    • Plants are 90% water. Is there convenient access to water sources? If lugging water is the only option, select plants tolerant of dry conditions.


7) Your plant hardiness zone—put this number on speed dial. 📱

  • Check to learn your zone number. Refer to plant tags for zone numbers.

  • Select plants for your zone number and down to two zones lower and they (usually) survive our winters.


8) Are planting areas sunny, shady, a bit of both? ☀️

  • Take pictures of planting locations to verify light conditions at various times of day.

  • Plant tags indicate preferred light conditions. To simplify shopping, garden centers often display plants in sunny or shady areas according to their needs.


9) Do a soil checkup. ✅

  • Without a soil test, gardening efforts are a guessing game.

  • Spend 15 minutes to scoop up a cup of soil and about $15 for the soil test fee. Soil test reports list pH level, key nutrients, and organic matter levels, plus recommendations for organic fertilizer, IF any is needed.

  • Soil tests must be submitted for school vegetable gardens to check for lead.

  • Find out more at UCONN’s Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory.


10) Oops is not an answer! Call before you dig. ☎️

  • Call utility companies before digging to check on line locations.

  • Verify if homeowners associations or municipal zoning rules restrict particular projects.


Woohoo! You’re now one savvy plant shopper. 👏 Have a blast on your next plant shopping trip.🚀

Michele MacKinnon, is a UCONN-Certified Advanced Master Gardener, garden educator and speaker. Contact MacKinnon at

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