The information on our Ratings Tables and your own visits will help you find top-quality garden centers and nurseries. Our ratings also will help you figure out which offer the best prices.

We checked prices for 26 different plants, such as a dwarf lilac in a three-gallon container and a knockout rose in a three-quart container.

The table below reveals tremendous store-to-store price variation—possibly more price variation than for any other type of business we cover. For almost all of the different plants we checked, the highest price was more than two times the lowest price; in some instances, the highest price was more than three times the lowest price.

The price comparison scores reported on our Ratings Tables show how each store’s prices for the items it stocked compared to the average prices of all surveyed garden centers for the same items. (Because we found generally consistent prices for chains, we used a single chain-wide average price for each item.) The scores are adjusted to a base of $100. Thus a store with a price comparison score of $110 had prices 10 percent higher than the average of all stores’ prices for the same items.

For the selection of plants they sell, Home Depot and Lowe’s did very well on price. Home Depot’s prices averaged 37 percent below the all-store average for comparable items, and Lowe’s averaged 26 percent below the all-store average. Unfortunately, both Home Depot and Lowe’s received well-below-average ratings on “quality of products.”

It is important to note that in this field—unlike most we cover—there is a correlation between price and quality. A store with high ratings on our customer survey for “quality of products” is more likely than not to have a higher-than-average price comparison score. Fortunately, however, some stores that rated high on our quality measures also had below-average prices.

When using the price comparison scores, keep in mind that we could not compare prices on identical products; although two stores might sell the same type of azalea with similar spreads, for example, the plants’ health or fullness of foliage may be distinctly different.

Also keep in mind that stores with high price comparison scores may have low prices for certain items. You can check prices by phone, but be sure to ask the right questions—

  • First, have the correct name for the particular variety of plant you want; the Latin name is usually more precise.
  • Second, specify size in a meaningful way. Asking the height of a Kurume-type azalea means little; because it is a semi-spreading evergreen, its price depends on its spread (say, “18 to 24 inches”), not its height. Trade practice with blue spruce, on the other hand, is to price according to height, and large shade trees are priced by height, container size, and trunk diameter. Ask the garden centers what terms to use, or download a copy of the “American Standard for Nursery Stock” from the AmericanHort website.
  • Third, obtain an overview of quality. Ask store personnel whether quoted prices are for “specimen” plants, “standard” plants, or “culls” (below-standard plants). Because these terms have the same meaning to personnel at any nursery, most will provide straight answers, rather than risk incurring your anger if you come in and find that they don’t have what they have promised.
Our Undercover Shoppers Were Quoted Big Price Differences by Stores
Plant Low price Average High price
Six liriope big blue lilyturfs
One-gallon containers
$30.00 $47.73 $71.94
Creeping phlox
One-quart container
$11.94 $19.47 $29.97
Dwarf lilac (Miss Kim)
Three-gallon container
$19.99 $34.77 $69.99
Lynnwood gold forsythia
Six feet ball and burlap or #3 container
$19.95 $31.28 $55.00
Boston fern
1.5-gallon container
$8.88 $24.09 $34.99
Hydrangea (mophead macrophylla)
Three-gallon container
$19.95 $36.17 $59.99
Dwarf burning bush
Three-gallon container
$24.99 $34.25 $50.00
Knockout rose
Three-quart container
$60.00 $94.57 $119.97
Aloe vera
Four-inch pot
$3.98 $6.50 $9.99
Eight-inch pot
$12.98 $23.99 $39.99