Even the greenest of thumbs sometimes needs help—sometimes lots of it. The opinions we collected from area consumers on garden centers they use, reported on our Ratings Tables, will help you find the best places to shop. You'll find that some stores were rated “superior” for “quality of products” by at least 80 percent of their surveyed customers, but several other retailers were rated “superior” on this question by fewer than 40 percent.

Home Depot and Lowe’s scored, on average, lower than almost all of the independent stores. But for the selection of plants they sell, these two big chains did well on price. Home Depot’s prices averaged 26 percent below the all-store average for comparable items, and Lowe’s averaged 16 percent below the all-store average. On the other hand, several independent stores offered even lower prices.

Unlike most types of services and stores we examine, paying more for plants at garden centers does slightly improve your odds of getting better advice, service, and product quality. Many of the stores rated highest for quality charge higher-than-average prices, but some stores we evaluated that rate high for quality also have below-average prices.

For specific plants, we found enormous nursery-to-nursery price differences. For example, for six liriopes in one-gallon containers, prices ranged from $36 to $240; and for a creeping phlox in a one-quart container, prices ranged from $9 to $45.