Spring is here and the urge to revitalize your garden is overwhelming.  Let’s go get some new plants!  Well, from where?  There are many nurseries from which to select for purchasing your plant needs..  Some are top notch and some shouldn’t even be in the business,.  So how is the average gardener and plant consumer to know the difference? Here are some criteria for rating and choosing a Central Texas nursery with which to do business.

Does the nursery stock a wide variety of plants that are ideal or suitable for your area?

This criteria is a big plus in rating any nursery.  In Austin where water-wise gardening is actively promoted and a free 52 page Grow Green book is available to help gardeners make good plant choices, a good nursery would stock or regularly carry a wide variety of these native and adaptive plants as choice and availability need to go hand in hand.

Does the nursery try to market plants not meant to be grown for your area?

Conversely, if a nursery is selling plants suited for other areas of the country or climate zones, this is a red flag that this nursery is simply marketing plants based on appeal to the unwary and impulsive buyer., and has little knowledge of what grows best in Central Texas.

Does the nursery recognize & use botanical names for the plants they sell?

There is only one correct and universally recognized name for each plant and to make sure you are getting the real thing, correct botanical names are a must in addition to popular common names.  Cultivar, hybrid, and variety names allow the buyer to research and get information about plants they buy or want.  Take a look at this sales slip and see what information it conveys – the botanical name along with the more commonly recognized name.

Is the staff trained and knowledgeable about the plants they sell?

A sure clue as to the competency of nursery staff is to request a plant by it’s botanical name and see the reaction – either HUH! or they find that plant quicklyIf they don’t know, they have the resources to research it on the spot – internet access, reference books, etc.  A weil trained and knowledgeable staff can tell you all you need to know in order to grow that plant well or as a basis for choosing it.

Are plants labeled well and correctly?

Do the plants in stock have a proper and correct identification and in some cases, information about the plant and how to grow it included?  Are prices clearly noted?  Nothing is more frustrating than to find a plant you like and have no idea, nor does the staff, of what it is – e.g.  labeled “cactus”, “tropical plant” or “succulent” – Duh!

Are the plants kept in healthy condition until sold?

Does a nursery order or propagate fresh stock regularly and sell their stock within one year?  Last year’s stock is a little risky to buy.  Are their plants trimmed back to maintain good shape and health,  Are plants in appropriate sized containers relative to size?  When you pull a pot bound plant out of a container, are the roots white or brown (alive or dead), and appearing healthy.  Are sickly plants removed from stock?  Are plants watered frequently to maintain good health?

Will a nursery try to find and acquire plants you want that are not in stock?

No nursery can carry everything you want or seek, but a good nursery will take requests, know their wholesale sources, and attempt to acquire plants you need or want.  Other nurseries will merely say they don’t have it or don’t sell it and not go beyond that level of help.  Keeping a customer happy by helping to get the specific plants being sought is a big plus in the customer service category.

Does the establishment sell only plants and related gardening products?

How many stores have you seen selling plants where the plants are a sidelight or a way to get you to spend more for something when you are shopping for something else?   These places are marketing goods to the impulse buyer, not doing the gardener any favors.  Let’s see,  plants at HEB, Drug Stores, Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot,  etc don’t qualify as a reputable plant nursery nor do the sales staff really know what they are selling

Is the nursery layout user friendly and easy to find desired plants?

It is pretty frustrating to go to a nursery and see plants everywhere, but what is located where?  Is signage good and customer friendly?  Are plants of like or comparative kind logically located together for comparison?  Are pathways and access to plant stock clear and easy to navigate?  Can staff easily find a plant for you?

Are plants at the nursery reasonably priced relative to actual size? 

Ah, and then there is the bottom line – prices.   The cost of buying plants has risen significantly in recent years due to increased transportation costs from grower to retailer so price becomes a shoppers concern.  Are you getting the best deal and your money’s worth?   A local nursery that propagates much of it’s stock can sell it for less than the same plant ordered from CA and trucked to market.   Plants are priced by container size.  I have seen plants in one gallon size that were much larger and more mature than the same plants in 3 gallon containers, but the price differential is significant.  A good nursery will price and package plants according to size, quality, and actual cost to them with reasonable profit margin, rather than try to prematurely upgrade a plant to a larger container to increase profit margin.  It’s just part of giving the customer a fair price and value with their purchase.

Now the next time you go shopping for plants at your local nursery, ask yourself all these questions or make a checklist and rate the nurseries you visit.  There is one nursery in Austin that I highly rated in all categories which inspired this article but I won’t reveal that so you can find it for yourself.  Good Luck.