Be a Smart Plant Shopper

Plants are highly variable products – size, form (bulbs, bare root, potted), quality/condition and more can vary dramatically. Smart shoppers have a handful of things they always look for before making a purchase.

Start with A Source That Knows Plants

Because plants are alive, there's are huge, out of the gate benefits to buying from a source that really knows these items. Does a company that sells furniture, European linens and specialty teas have high-quality plant holding facilities (walk-in coolers, warm rooms and greenhouses), top-of-the-line grower connections and first-hand gardening knowledge/experience? Doubtful. Their own test gardens? Nope. Stack the deck in your favor by starting out with a solid product and information source.


Plants usually vary in size. Think of them like you would other perishables, milk for instance. Would you want to pay the same amount for a pint of milk as for a gallon? No. Size matters.

Size comparison of two begonia bulbs

Wise shoppers look for size information as part of the comparison between various offerings. If a seller doesn't provide that information, it seems logical to think that:

  1. They don’t believe it matters
  2. They don’t care that it matters
  3. They don’t want to publicize what they’re selling because it’s not good
For example, the rose form, ruffled, hanging basket and picotee begonia bulbs found here are 2-2.5" across and 16/20cm in circumference, i.e. some of the largest sold by growers. Big box stores typically offer much smaller bulbs, see bulb on right. This bulb is just 1.25" across or 10cm, about half the size of ours.

To get great outdoor decorating results, you need to start with the good stuff.

Bigger bulbs come with a larger storehouse of nutrients to get the plant started. These nutrients help the plant settle in better and deliver more flowers that first year. (After the initial season, the plant relies on nutrients absorbed thorough its roots.)

For bare root plants, choose ones with more "eyes" or growing points. Higher eye counts indicate more mature plants and translate into a greater number of sprouts and a fuller plant in year one. More mature plants have a larger root mass, allowing them to settle in well and grow faster.


One clear advantage online sellers have over local retailers is the ability to provide specialized holding conditions, namely controlled temperatures and humidity. Some bulbs, tubers, roots and rhizomes hold best in warm, dry conditions. Some are better with cool, slightly moist conditions. Garden centers and big box stores don’t have walk-in coolers, carefully regulated warm chambers and rooms with managed air circulation.

For local retailers, if you happen to buy plants the day they are received from the grower, great. Otherwise, it's often not so great. Unless the plants are clearly ailing, it's difficult to see signs of common stress. Insufficient water, too much sunlight, excessive wind and overly hot or cold temperatures can all impact your new plants' health.


Once you’ve determined what size products are being sold, check prices and quantities. Are the figures for a single plant, for a trio or more? Make sure you understand what you're getting.

Information for Your Success

Is the seller you’re considering purchasing from invested in your success? Do they support good choices with helpful information up front? Do they provide guides so you know how, when and where to plant? Or are you left taking your best guess?

That’s it – now you have the basics for being a smart plant shopper.