Should Price Be the Determining Factor When You Buy Plants?

Many factors go into the price of plants. Let's see which ones are worth splurging for and which you can save your hard-earned dollars on.

When I was a new gardener and every penny mattered, I looked for the least expensive flowers to fill my porch pots. I had yet to learn why some plants cost more than others, and more importantly, why some flowers were worth more.

Now that I’ve been working in horticulture for more than 20 years, I know the price should be only one of many factors I consider when buying plants for indoors and outdoors.

How Is The Price of a Plant Determined?

Many factors go into the retail price of a plant, including several you may not have considered. The base price of plants includes what it costs to produce, package and ship them to garden centers.

Beyond the base price, here are a few conditions that can impact the price:

  • Was it grown organically? These cost more to produce, so they sell for higher prices.
  • Is the plant in high demand? The principles of supply and demand apply just as much to your Pink Princess Philodendron as they do to your Apple Watch.
  • Is the plant patented? The price includes the royalties paid to the breeder and company that patented them, so they are typically priced a little higher than non-patented plants. You’ll know it’s patented if you see the words “Unauthorized propagation is prohibited” on the label. Most new plants introduced today are patented.
  • Do you shop in a high-rent district? Expect to pay more in municipalities that are more expensive to live in.
  • Are you buying via mail order? Shipping costs can be hefty for live plants.

Save or Splurge?

Sometimes, it makes sense to save money by starting with smaller plants. Other times, it’s better to splurge on larger, more mature plants. Here’s how to know when to save or splurge.

If you’re using a plant to establish structure in a new garden, create a living screen or fill out a container quickly, go ahead and splurge on larger plants. If you’re adding a plant to a mature garden bed where small seedlings would easily get swallowed up, start with larger plants. In these cases, splurge as much as you can to achieve the effect you’re going for right away.

If patience is one of your virtues and you have plenty of time to watch plants grow and mature, save money by starting with smaller ones. Use common sense here. You wouldn’t start an evergreen hedge from seed because it would take decades to mature, but you could easily start flowering perennials from small starter plants.

For potted houseplants, I typically start with smaller ones, not only to save money but also because I like to watch them grow up close. Should you splurge on that $350 cutting of a variegated Monstera you saw on Instagram? If you have a bright green thumb and the perfect growing conditions, it’s worth a try. If not, save your money.

“The pandemic has caused tropical plant prices to skyrocket,” says Sheri Ann Richerson, a blogger at Exotic Gardening. “People pay more for a cutting than what they used to pay for the entire plant. If the consumer demand lets up, prices will fall back in line with where they should be.”

Use patents as an indicator of the quality of the plant’s genetics. It’s costly for the company introducing a new plant to patent it, so only their most valuable plants are worth the effort. You may spend more on them, but they’re worth more. Cheaper varieties of non-patented annuals and perennials don’t always perform as well as their patented counterparts.

Three Ways to Save Money on Plants

One can never have too many plants! We just need to be smart about how we buy them. Here are three things you can do to save on plants so you can buy more:

  1. When buying potted perennials, look for those you might divide if there are multiple crowns or shoots on the plant. Your careful observations could net you a two-for-one deal. Or wait for a plant to multiply in your garden, then divide it.
  2. Inspect the plant carefully before you buy to make sure it appears healthy. Look for signs of new growth, vibrant color, new buds forming and branches that aren’t crossing or rubbing together. In the long run, a healthy plant will save money on fertilizer, insecticides, fungicides and any other products you might need to nurse a sick one back to health. Plants that look half dead purchased on clearance could end up costing you more than a full-price healthy plant in the long run.
  3. Take advantage of store sales, coupons and loyalty programs. Sales often occur during the slower times of year for garden centers, like midsummer and fall. By collecting loyalty points at one of my local garden centers, I bought a beautiful $160 Japanese maple tree for only $25!

Susan Martin
Susan Martin is a lifelong gardener who enjoys sharing her passion for plants, gardening and the business of horticulture with fellow plant enthusiasts across North America. She has spent over two decades working in the horticulture industry on new plant development, garden design, sales, marketing and consulting. Susan has received visitors from around the world in her home garden which has been featured in numerous gardening publications. Her goal is to inspire and educate people about how to garden every day.