When you're shopping in the garden center, how do you know you're getting a healthy plant?
"Don't just judge by the green part you can see," said Stephanie Adams, a pathologist in plant health care at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. "Look at the roots, which are just as important."
Here are some tips from Adams for choosing good plants:
Read the label. "The first step is to make sure you're buying the right kind of plant for the place where you're going to put it," she said. Consider the amount of sunlight the plant requires, and be sure it is hardy for winter climates. If the plant is a tree or shrub, find out how tall and wide it will ultimately grow so you know if it will fit in the space you have available. Make sure the plant is a good match for the soil conditions in your garden.
Judge the color. Most plants should be a uniform medium green. If a plant's leaves are not uniformly green, make sure the white splotches or the purple tinge is the appropriate color for that cultivated variety and doesn't represent a problem. Some cultivated varieties are bred to have differently colored leaves. For example, a plant with yellowish leaves might have been bred that way, or it might be a naturally green plant that is losing chlorophyll because of a disease. The label should make it clear what the plant is intended to look like.
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Look for symmetry. Among perennials and shrubs, choose plants with evenly distributed leaves and stems all the way around.
Check for healthy roots. "Ask permission to gently pull the plant from its pot and examine the roots," Adams said. "It's common sense, like looking under the hood before you buy a car." In annuals, vegetables and most perennials, roots should be white. Roots of trees and shrubs may be yellowish or brown. You should be able to see plenty of roots distributed throughout the soil. The roots and soil should be moist.
Avoid plants with diseased roots. "If you buy a plant with bad roots, you're set up for failure," Adams said. A sickly plant will disappoint you, and it also may introduce disease-causing fungus spores or bacteria to your garden soil, where they may infect other plants. "Diseased roots are usually brown, sometimes even black," she said. "They might look squishy or flat, like a shoelace, because they've collapsed." Avoid dried-out roots too.
Spot-check flats. "When I'm buying a flat of plants, I usually pull up one or two plants from the middle to check the roots," Adams said. "If any plants in the flat look poor — either the leaves or the roots — I won't buy it. A disease could be spreading through the whole flat."
Too many roots? No problem. On a plant that you will transplant, it's not a problem if it looks pot-bound, with roots that completely fill the pot, or if it has circling roots. "You can correct that at planting," she said. For pot-bound plants, make cuts around the outside of the root ball and fluff out the fine roots to encourage them to grow out into the soil. For circling roots, cut them or pull them apart to direct their growth outward into the soil. "The main roots should grow out like the spokes of a wheel."
Avoid pot-bound houseplants and container plants. It is important to avoid buying a plant that is pot-bound if you will be keeping it in the same container. Or, transplant it to a larger pot so its roots won't be overcrowded all summer.
Get a guarantee. For major purchases, such as trees and large shrubs, make sure the garden center gives you a written guarantee, and be prepared to do your part. "The guarantee will only protect you if you have correctly planted and cared for the plant," Adams said. "It won't cover a plant that dies because you forgot to water it."
Holey leaves and vines! Houseplant trends for 2022
New crop of houseplants
After the houseplant heyday of the 1970s, the penchant for potted green companions faded with all but the most dedicated plant parents. But over the past decade, as many young adults began filling their homes — and social media feeds — with indoor plants, a cross-generational audience started to take notice.
Then the pandemic hit, and the homebound turned to houseplants for a sense of comfort and a connection to nature. Two years in, the desire to green up our living spaces with "houseplant jungles" is still going strong.
But for everything, there is a season: Cactuses, the darlings of the past decade, are waning in popularity as bolder statement plants that impart a sense of hominess and warmth take their place.
As we begin a new year, a new crop of houseplant trends awaits. Here are the styles and plants you can expect to see more of in 2022.
Steadily growing in popularity over the past few years, split-leaf philodendron (Monstera deliciosa) and Swiss cheese plant (Monstera adansonii) are showing no sign of retreat.
"Looks are what make them popular," said Puneet Sabharwal, CEO and co-founder of the Horti houseplant subscription service. Their leaves are uniquely fenestrated, which in the plant world describes foliage that is split or contains holes.
"Things also become popular when they're hard to acquire," Sabharwal said. In the past, "Monsteras were never available in tiny sizes — only with big, giant leaves — and they were expensive. So initially it was hobby gardeners taking clippings and sharing them with each other, then posting photos on Instagram."
The hashtag #MonsteraMonday helped fuel the frenzy, he said.
The plants are more accessible today, so the trend we're seeing is a combination of their good looks, social media popularity and ease of care, Sabharwal said. "They're hard to kill, and you only need one to add the feel of a jungle to your house."
Climbing plants also are having a moment as social media feeds fill with images of vines spilling from containers and snaking their way up stair railings and bookcases. Philodendrons, especially the velvet-leaved "micans" and variegated "pink princess" varieties, are desirable, as are large hoya and pothos plants. All are relatively low-maintenance.
"The beauty of vining plants is that you can easily take a clipping and make another," Sabharwal said. "And they don't take up a lot of floor space" because they grow vertically.
He attributes their surge in popularity to the wholesale-retail cycle: In 2020, lockdowns and business restrictions created a shortage of plants, so demand grew. Commercial growers responded to that demand by producing more. But, Sabharwal said, small pothos and philodendrons flooded the market and just sat on nursery shelves, growing bigger as the year progressed. Now there's a large supply of plants with long vines, which are in greater demand.
Carnivorous plants can be tricky to grow, but who doesn't love a good conversation piece?
"We've seen what we call a slow-motion explosion," said Damon Collingsworth, co-owner of Sonoma County-based California Carnivores, the largest carnivorous plant nursery in the U.S. "When we opened in 1989, no one was interested because (the plants) were kind of weird, but weird is desirable now."
The recent fascination can be traced, at least partially, to TikTok videos showing the plants in action. One in particular, which shows a jumping spider occupying a pitcher plant, quickly amassed 15.8 million views after it was posted to the platform in September.
But the allure isn't limited to social media. Last summer's BBC Gardeners World Live, an annual multi-day event held in Birmingham, England, showcased a carnivorous plants display for the first time in its 30-year history.
Stateside, Collingsworth said his nursery's biggest sellers are Cape sundews (Drosera capensis) and butterworts (Pinguicula spp). Both are among the easiest carnivorous plants to grow indoors on a sunny windowsill. Tropical pitcher plants (Nepenthes spp) also are on-trend, but their care requires a balancing act that Collingsworth calls "water finesse." Their soil should be kept moist but never soggy, and it should be allowed to dry only slightly between waterings.
All three are swamp plants, so they require mineral-free distilled or rain water and very little fertilizer because their nutrient intake comes from the insects they catch. In the absence of an abundance of gnats, fruit flies or other household pests, Collingsworth recommends adding one pellet of slow-release fertilizer to each pitcher plant's "mouth," or spraying the leaves of other plants with liquid fertilizer once a month.
"They're so different from everything else and also really charismatic and beautiful," he said.
"Japandi" style, a marriage of Japanese minimalism and Scandinavian functionality, is new to the home décor scene, and houseplants play an essential role in creating the aesthetic.
The intentional placement of just a few statement plants in a room instantly imparts a sense of cozy elegance. Monsteras and the round-leaved Chinese money plants (Pilea peperomioides) provide the desired welcoming vibe without clutter.
Houseplant lovers bored by understated style are grouping large-leafed species for dramatic effect. Mature Monstera deliciosas, for instance, command attention with leaves that grow to 18 inches long, and the variegated foliage of golden and Hawaiian pothos varieties can reach 8 inches. The bold, arrow-shaped leaves of Alocasia, another rising star, often extend to 10 inches. Mix and match shapes and sizes for the biggest impact.
Before the pandemic, Collingsworth said, "we lived in a mass-produced, throw-away world. Now people are realizing nature is getting more and more scarce and special, and they're appreciating that" by bringing more plants into their homes.