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Gardening, already one of the most popular hobbies in America, experienced a huge growth spurt over the last five years. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, seed sellers saw their websites crash from too many sales, and nurseries saw a big run on houseplants and succulents. Spending on gardening tools, plants, and professional landscaping remains on the rise, as more aspiring green thumbs seek to beautify their yards, connect to nature, and grow produce to feed themselves.

If you’ve joined the green scene, you’ll need a good garden center to both sell you plants and educate you about how—and where—to grow them. The best nurseries boast a bounty of quality annuals and perennials, and employ in-the-know staff who know their asters from their alders. Ideally, they’ll also cultivate good prices. But unfortunately, some garden centers offer up lackluster blooms and trees and droopy employees.

To get to the root of it all, we collected opinions from Puget Sound area consumers on garden centers they’ve used. Scores on our Ratings Tables reflect big variations in quality, with many stores rated “superior” for “quality of products” by at least 80 percent of surveyed customers, but some other retailers rated “superior” on this question by fewer than 40 percent.

We also found big price differences, perhaps more than in any other subject we cover. However, most of the lowest price tags came from Fred Meyer, Home Depot, and Lowe’s, which typically get poor ratings from their customers for product quality and advice. While paying more can mean you get better tips and tulips, we also unearthed some high-rated stores with below-average prices.

This price-quality tradeoff leads many plant-buying consumers to shop at more than one place. Many of our members rate more than one garden center, reporting that they buy inexpensive annuals and other items that only last for a short time from Home Depot, Lowe’s, grocery stores, etc., but purchase expensive perennials at nurseries that have higher buying standards.

For specific plants, we found enormous nursery-to-nursery price differences. For example, for a lavender in a #1-size container, prices ranged from $7.99 to $25; and for a bird of paradise in a #2 container, prices ranged from $21.99 to $120.