Scrutinize the leaves and the stems. Compare them with other plants of the same variety: You want bushy specimens with many stems. If the plant is tall and spindly, chances are it’s had poor care. And unless the plant should have variegated leaves of a different color, look for a lush green.
Check the roots. A plant’s primary source for delivering nutrition and water, roots are essential for a successful transplant from the nursery to your garden soil. To check their condition, gently tip the pot to one side and slide out the plant, soil and all. If the roots are cramped or curling around and around, the plant is “root bound” (shown, far left), which may cause growth problems down the line. On the other hand, if there’s a lot more soil than roots, the plant is underdeveloped. When you find a specimen with a balanced roots-to-soil ratio (shown, left), put that gem in your wagon.
Never buy plants with: Brown, crispy leaf edges: May indicate underwatering, stress. Yellowing leaves: May indicate overwatering. Papery, bleached leaves: May indicate spider mites. Notched leaf edges: May indicate insect damage. Too many broken stems: May indicate rough handling. Tiny scars on undersides of leaves: May indicate insect damage. Wilted, brown, or spotted leaves: May indicate fungal disease.