Buying Plants

Buying plants in South Florida is easy. Everywhere you go you see plants for sale...not just at garden centers and nurseries, but also discount stores, box stores, the grocery store, and flea markets.

Garden center with pots of bougainvillea in bloom

But purchasing a plant involves more than just plunking down your money and going home with a new plant. You're buying information, too:

Is this the right plant for your needs?

Will it work where you want to plant it?

Do you know anything about it - how fast it will grow, what light it likes, how much water it needs?

Will it even grow in our subtropical climate?

When buying plants, a new little plant often has a tag with the plant's name and some basic info.

Beware! These tags are actually generic, not specially meant for South Florida. These can fool even the most experienced Florida gardener.

The best place for buying plants?

At a reputable plant nursery - OR - a garden center where the people really know their stuff.

Greenhouse with rows of plants

The worst place to buy plants? At the box stores (or anywhere else that doesn't grow/sell plants for a living).

Plants shipped in to box stores are often greenhouse-grown - not out in the hot sun where you might be planting them.

And they can harbor microscopic bugs or suffer stress from shipment, the results of which may show up later after you've already got the plants in the ground.

Reputable plant nurseries ALSO get some plants shipped in...but they know the plant's history and can pass that info on to you. And they're experts on plant problems, buying only from top-quality local growers whose plants are in excellent condition.

A good plant nursery (or garden center) should:

  • offer a decent-sized selection of landscape plants for South Florida
  • have healthy plants with competitive prices
  • assist you with buying plants that are right for your situation
  • help with plant identification (bring in cuttings)
  • give advice on plant problems (again, bring in cuttings, but in a plastic bag)
  • stock chemicals and supplies for treating pests and diseases - and the know-how on using them
  • carry soil amendments
  • have delivery and planting services available
Greenhouse showroom full of plants

Many even offer landscape design help and gardening classes.

Some carry decorative pots, fountains and outdoor furniture.

Others may carry unusual plants and the growing information for them.

They should NOT:

  • have weeds taller than the plants for sale
  • employ salespeople who tell you a certain plant will grow 6 inches a year (there IS no magic formula for growth rate - see the Trimming page for more info on plant growth)


"But the box stores offer a money-back guarantee, and most plant nurseries don't."

The box store doesn't actually guarantee their plants - they make their growers guarantee them.

So if you return a plant, it's money out of the growers pocket. And it's double the work for you.

When you're buying plants at a reasonable price - and getting robust, healthy plants and solid, trustworthy advice on how to grow them well... don't need a guarantee.

Pot sizes

Annuals usually come in 4-1/2" pots. Other plants are available in a 1 gallon, 3 gallon, 7 gallon, 10 gallon, 15 gallon or 25 gallon pot.

The largest size plants are B & B ("balled and burlapped"), meaning they were field-grown (see picture below).

Plants in a 3 gallon pot usually have 3 plants in them, meant to grow into one bushy plant. Don't separate them...their roots are probably intertwined, and planting them singly gives a landscape a skimpy, amateurish look.

B & B palms

Young plants DO look different

Don't be put off by how different a young plant - especially a tree or palm - looks from what it will become. After all, how many of us look like our baby pictures?

And don't be deceived by how little and compact a young plant is - check with the Plant Pages and/or the nursery for the mature size you can expect.

How big to buy

For fast growing hedge shrubs (or any fast grower), 3 gallon size pots work fine. If you need privacy or a more "finished" look right away, buy 7 gallon.

For any slow growers, plants in 1 gallon pots take forever. Buy 3 gallon (or larger).

Small perennials like society garlic usually come in 1 gallon pots.

Palms and trees are generally offered in 15 or 25 gallon, so they'll have some size now. Only buy them smaller if you're pretty young yourself.

Buying plants like large B & B palms and trees can be expensive...but can be worth the expense to have the instant gratification of more mature specimens in your landscape. This size must be professionally installed.

When to buy

Same answer as when to plant. Any time.

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