Better Safe Than Sorry: Inspect All Plants Before You Bring Them Home

Posted on: 7 January 2015

If you're looking for new plants and trees to bring home, a nursery is a fantastic place to go. Caring staff offer locally suitable plants that are also often certified to resist or be free of pests and pathogens. However, even the best nurseries can find infestations starting unexpectedly -- maybe a customer tracked something in on his or her shoes, or an errant bug discovered a hiding place in a dense shrub and multiplied. Before bringing any plant home, inspect it thoroughly to ensure you're not bringing additional organisms home with you. Here are some basic things to do.

Leaf- and Stem-Dwelling Pests

Check under the leaves of the plant for evidence of bugs. You might not see the actual bugs -- you could see things that look like scars, indicating bug damage, or bits of matter that could be droppings. Also look at the stems and the "elbows" where stems meet. If you see a particularly dense plant with lots of leaves, part the branches and leaves and look deeper into the middle of the plant. If you do see something, notify a nursery worker because they are not going to want to leave that plant near the others, where it could potentially spread the problem.

Look for fuzzy gray, cotton-like growths that could indicate a problem. Grayish, brownish, and blackish patches indicate different mold and mildew issues. Not all healthy plants will look perfect. However, you want to avoid those that have a definite problem.

Potential Future Problems

Check over the plants for areas that appear dry and shriveled -- even a little. Obviously, a blossom that's aged to the point of dropping off the plant will look dry and shriveled, but that's not the issue. You're looking for signs that the plant didn't receive adequate water. In many cases, mildly dry plants can be nursed back to health with more water, but not always. Excessively dry, weakened plants can be magnets for pests. Even if that plant doesn't appear to have a problem now, it could attract one later on.

Look at the top of the soil and at the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. If you're buying a large container plant, you might need a staff member to help you lift up the plant. Bugs can congregate around the drainage hole openings. Avoid plants where you see bugs living in the soil. If you can't lift up the plant, douse the top and bottom of the soil with insecticide when you get it home, and keep it away from your other plants for a few weeks. Also give the plant a gentle but thorough bath, either by spraying it with a hose or dunking it in water for 15 minutes, if the plant can handle moist soil.

Professional-Nursery Plants

Look for plants that are certified disease- and pest-free, and that are planted in clean soil. Be wary of plants that are in soil taken from a yard -- professional nurseries shouldn't have these, but you might see these at fairs where people are selling cuttings. Soil is a major transfer medium for diseases and pests.

Good nurseries have knowledgeable staff who can help you look for issues with plants. If you have any questions about what pests and diseases might be an issue in your area, your local nurseries are among the best places to go.