May 2021: Smart Shopping: Dodging Disease When Purchasing Plants

Potted Plant IconMay is a prime time to visit your local greenhouse, nursery or garden center to buy annuals, perennials and vegetables for your home garden.  Unfortunately, these plants can be carriers of plant disease-causing organisms.  Here are some pointers on what to look for when buying plants.

Select plants that are vigorously growing, but aren’t overly leggy

Stunted plants often have diseases (e.g., root rots or viral diseases).  Leggy plants may be healthy, but often have growth that is wimpy and easily injured.  Injured tissue can provide entry points for plant pathogens.

Avoid plants with brown leaf spots

Dead spots on leaves can indicate fungal or bacterial infections.  The pathogens involved continue to reproduce in these areas and can spread on the plant, and potentially to other plants.

Avoid plants with odd leaf coloring

Some plants have variegated foliage.  That’s normal.  However, if you see plants with unexpected blotchy light and dark-colored leaves, yellow lines or yellow ring patterns, avoid these.  They may be infected with a virus.

Avoid plants with fuzzy growth on the leaves

Such growth typically indicates a fungal or water mold infection.  For example, white growth on upper and lower leaf surfaces can indicate a powdery mildew problem; white, gray or purplish growth on the undersides of leaves is typical of a downy mildew

Choose plants with healthy, white roots

Examine plant roots whenever possible.  If roots are brown or otherwise discolored, root rots or some sort of physical root injury (e.g., heat injury) may be an issue.

Avoid plants with blotchy leaf color, an indication of a viral infection.
Avoid plants with blotchy leaf color, an indication of a viral infection.

With just a little care, you can buy healthy, pathogen-free plants that will provide months, if not years, of gardening enjoyment.

Need more information?

For more information on plant diseases and their management, check out the fact sheet section of the UW-Madison PDDC website (