We often buy plants on inspiration, and forget that they are raised in the pampered conditions of a glasshouse, where the air is warm and humid. Then we take them home to a habitat a great deal short of ideal. A reputable nurseryman will understand this, and harden off his plants to reduce the shock of moving from a cozy steamy environment to the rather less hospitable centrally heated living rooms, so where and from whom you buy your plant is important.
Although you can buy plants at any time of the year, delicate varieties are best bought during the warm months, in order to lessen the shock. Watch out for bargain plants put out on the pavement in the cold! After considering the size of the plant for the place you have in mind, check for obvious danger signs before buying it.
It isn’t always easy for the beginner to know which plants are healthy and well-grown, especially if they are unusual or have variegated leaves. But there are basic clues to the plant’s health. Unless the plant is a climber, it should be sturdy and bushy. Leaves should be evenly spaced, and not have bare stems sparsely clothed with leaves. The leaves should be firm if they hang limply the plant needs a good drink, or it could have root rot.
There should definitely not be any yellow discoloration on the leaves, or dry brown tips and edges. Some pests are difficult to see, in any light, but try your best to see if there are any lurking on the undersides of the leaves, at the joints, or on the stalks. Green slime covering the pot and the top of the compost is a sign of over-watering and root degeneration, so give that plant a miss. If you see roots growing out of the pot, and the rest of the plant looks healthy, you can always re-pot it.
Flowering plants are always hard to pass by and the hardest to forecast a future for. Make sure that the plant still has buds to come, and that it isn’t past its peak. Look for firm buds, and give the plant a shake to make sure they don’t fall off. But, having made your checks, be aware that some plants may be covered with firm, large buds which might not open.