The Complete Guide to Plants & Houseplants

Last update: April 21, 2020

No two types of plants are exactly alike. They have different care needs, from different light requirements to different food requirements. Additionally, some plants are better suited for growing in some parts of the world than others. Choosing the right plant starts with picking one that will thrive in your area. Once you’ve picked out a plant, you want to make sure to give it the light, water and food it needs to thrive.

What to Know Before Buying a Plant

Not all plants are created equally. Some need a fair amount of care and attention to thrive in your garden or when grown indoors. Others will quickly get settled in and take over an area if you’re not careful. Before you purchase a plant, it helps to know its growth habit, care needs and its native habitat.

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When you’re looking at plants in a garden center, don’t be deceived by petite pots or tiny looking seedlings. The size a plant is when you bring it home doesn’t necessarily reflect the size it will be once you’ve planted it and it’s had a chance to grow.

Most plants come with a tag that tells you all you need to know about them. The tag will list the expected height of the plant as well as how wide it can get. A tiny six inch plant can quickly grow to four, five or six feet in height over the course of a single season. Knowing how large a plant can get will help you determine if you have space for it and if you’ll need stakes or other material to help it stay upright.

Another thing to think about before you buy a plant is whether it’s native to your area or not. While it can be fine to grow non-native species, a native plant can be easier to get established in your garden. Native plants are adapted to the temperature, soil conditions and moisture conditions in your area and will usually produce better than non-native versions.

There is an exception to that rule, and that’s in the case of invasive species. Invasive plants will quickly take over your garden and can spread to other growing areas. They can crowd out native species and cause other forms of harms to the environment. The USDA keeps a list of invasive species, so you can check to see if the plant you want to grow is on the list.

Annual vs Perennial Plants

Another thing to consider when choosing your plants is whether they are annuals or perennials.

The video above from Westwood Gardens offers a simple explanation of what annual plants are compared to perennial plants and shows you a few examples of each type. Essentially, annual plants live for one growing season or year, then die. They might produce seeds that fall to the ground so that new plants of the same species grow the next year.

Perennials continue to live for many years. Depending on the species, the entire plant might dye back to the soil level, but the crown and roots continue to live beneath the ground. The plant will come back year after year.

If you want a lot of variety in your garden and hope to see different plants every year, it can make sense to plant annuals. But if you want to plant one time and reap the benefits of a beautiful garden for years to come, perennials might be the better option for you.

Picking Out Healthy Plants

A beautiful garden starts with healthy plants and healthy plants start at the nursery. Just because a garden center is offering a plant for sale doesn’t mean it’s necessarily in the best of shape.

If a plant isn’t doing so well, there are usually a few obvious signs. One sign is yellowed leaves, according to Houzz. A plant that has yellow leaves is a plant that’s been overwatered or otherwise treated poorly at the garden center. It might have a fungal infection or other disease.

You also want to pick up a plant to take a look at its roots. Plants can become pot-bound when they’re sitting waiting for someone to give them a home. If a plant’s roots are spilling out of the bottom of a pot or if the roots have pushed their way out of the top layer of soil, it’s gotten too big for its pot and might have trouble adjusting to life in the garden.

You might think that a plant that’s in full bloom is an ideal plant to buy. But, it’s actually preferable to buy flowering plants that have buds on them, not flowering plants that are in full bloom. The plants that are in full bloom when you get them might have been forced to bloom early and is likely to be spent by the time you plant it, according to the Chicago Tribune.

General Care Tips

Plants, like all living things, need water and food to survive. They also need to have certain light and temperature needs met. Although some plants aren’t too picky about their conditions, others will wilt or become diseased if they don’t get the right amount of water, food or light.


Generally speaking, all plants need at least some exposure to sunlight to grow. Plants use sunlight for a process known as photosynthesis, which is one way that they produce the energy that helps them grow.

Although all plants need some light, the amount of light will vary from variety to variety and species to species. Typically, plants that produce flowers and fruit need the most light, usually at least eight hours of full sun daily.

Plants that are grown for foliage, or leaves, usually need less light. That’s why you can get away with growing a leafy houseplant in a dimly lit room or with planting ferns or herbs in shady areas.

If your plant isn’t getting enough light, it will let you know. The leaves of the plant will usually turn yellow. It might develop a leggy growth, or look long and spindly. Plants that have variegated leaves, or leave that are a mix of green and yellow, often become a more solid shade of green.

Water and Food

Just like sunlight, how much food and water a plant needs will vary from species to species. Some plants, such as cacti and succulents, have evolved to thrive in dry areas and in drought conditions. They are able to store up water in their leaves and won’t be happy if you regularly water them. In contrast, other plants are thirsty and need regular waterings, especially during the summer.

The same is true of food or nutrition. If a plant grows rapidly and produces flowers and fruits, it’s going to need more food than a plant that’s a slow grower or than a plant that is dormant. The tag that is included with the plant will lay out how much food, water and light that particularly variety needs.

Choosing and Preparing a Spot for Your Plants

Where you put your plants has a big impact on how well they thrive. Your garden site selection is going to be influenced by the amount of light the area receives and the quality of the soil there.

You can always amend soil to improve it or plant in containers, but you can’t really change the amount of light an area receives. That means light should be the biggest consideration when choosing a site.

According to this video from Fine Gardening, fall is the idea time to evaluate an area of your garden and choose a location. Typically, you want a very sunny spot to grow vegetables, fruits and flowers. Herbs and foliage plants will do OK in a shadier area.

Learn More About Plant Care

Are you ready to jump into gardening, but want more details about caring for or choosing plants? We have lots of articles on the topic. Check out the sidebar to find more information on caring for plants or more details on the specific type of plant you hope to grow.

Photo by artisano licensed under CC0

Photo licensed under CC0..

Source for plant fact: NCBI

Comments (1)

It’s good to know that a plant that has yellow leaves means it might have some disease. I’m wanting to add more plants to my backyard this summer and I want to choose healthy ones from my nursery. I’ll be sure to keep these tips in mind as I look for healthy plants at the nursery.

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