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.

Fred Meyer, Home Depot, and Lowe’s scored, on average, lower than almost all of the independent stores. But for the selection of plants they sell, Home Depot and Lowe’s did very well on price. Home Depot’s prices averaged 27 percent below the all-store average for comparable items, and Lowe’s averaged 18 percent below the all-store average. But local chain McLendon Hardware, which received better-than-average ratings for quality, also offered prices that were about about 18 percent lower than average.

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 $12 to $90; and for a creeping phlox in a one-quart container, prices ranged from $9 to $36.