How to choose healthy plants

Before you head to the garden centre, check out our tips on selecting the best plants, so you will know how to spot plants that are healthy and full of potential.

Select your plants carefully to ensure you get good value for money
Select your plants carefully to ensure you get good value for money

Quick facts

  • Look for a well-balanced plant with even growth

  • Take it out of its pot and check the roots aren’t overcrowded

  • Beware of damaged shoots or discoloured leaves

  • On flowering plants, make sure there are still plenty of buds 

Getting started

When you get to the garden centre, with its huge choice of amazing and colourful plants, it’s all too easy to pick up everything that catches your eye. But don’t let yourself be too dazzled by their beauty – inspect each plant to make sure it’s in good shape and will make a worthwhile investment. ​Never be afraid to take a plant out of its pot and inspect the roots – they can give you vital clues to a plant’s health and vigour. 

Try not to feel sorry for the lop-sided, neglected plant at the back of the shelf – it may well have been sitting there for months and have poor growth and congested roots. Unless it’s been reduced in price and you relish a challenge, steer clear and opt for the best specimen you can find.
Top tip

Resist the urge to buy plants on impulse – instead take the time to choose a healthy, vigorous specimen.

How to choose a healthy plant in six simple steps

  1. Inspect your plant

    Hold it up to the light and check both sides of the leaves and stems. Look out for scale insects, mealybugs and woolly aphids on their host range of plants, as these insects suck sap and are difficult to get rid of. Discoloured leaves may be a sign of a nutrient deficiency or another ailment. 
  2. Bigger isn't always better

    Look for a sturdy young plant with plenty of new shoots and buds, as well as a healthy root system that will flourish. 
  3. Check the roots

    Avoid plants with so much congested root growth that you can’t see the compost, and/or with lots of roots sticking out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. 
  4. Reject plants with poor growth

    If an established plant has poor growth, there must be a good reason for it. Look out for dead or diseased-looking leaves, signs of mould (grey or sooty), mildew (powdery or downy) and broken or damaged shoots and branches. 
  5. Avoid plants with weeds or moss

    This can be a sign of old stock that hasn't been well cared for.
  6. Look for even, all-round growth

    Some plants will have a ‘front’ and a ‘back’ because they might not have been regularly turned round, and have become lop-sided.


  • Water your new plants as soon as you get them home.

  • Check the label before planting, to make sure you position them in a location where they’ll thrive.

  • Plant them as soon as possible, rather than letting them languish in their original pots. 

  • Continue watering your new plants regularly for at least the first growing season, until well settled in. If the weather turns very hot or dry, take particular care to keep them well watered.

Join the RHS

Become an RHS Member today and save 25% on your first year

Join now

Gardeners' calendar

Find out what to do this month with our gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.