Many gardeners love growing plants from seed, and it's very rewarding, but they also love buying plants. Maybe you only want one or two, or don't have the space to raise seedlings - or you've set your heart on a plant that's very difficult to propagate, or a particular variety that is only available as a plant. Buying plants is a lot of fun, but unless you know what you're doing it can also lead to expensive mistakes.
Make a list. If you don't know exactly which plants you want, then make a list of the different spaces you have available - whether they're sunny or shady - and any ideas you have about plants that might fit the bill. When you're at the garden centre it's easy to buy too many plants or plants that need different conditions to the ones you have in your garden. In either case, you'll struggle to look after them.
Look for healthy plants. If you're paying full price for a plant, then it needs to be healthy, with good foliage and no signs of pests or diseases. Gently tap the plant out of its pot so that you can look at the rootball and make sure the plant isn't pot-bound (with its roots entirely filling the pot and circling round). If you're not brave enough to do that, pick it up to see whether the roots are growing out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot!
Check for weeds or moss. Weeds or moss growing on the surface of the compost mean that the plant has been sitting around at the garden centre for a long time. That's not necessarily a problem if it's a place that looks after their plants well, but be careful not to introduce more weeds into your garden!
Think twice about rescuing a plant. Bringing home a sad-looking plant, one that has been reduced in price, is something that many gardeners can't resist. But bear in mind that it will need lots of TLC and may not thrive - you may still feel that it's worth the risk. And sometimes plants are reduced simply because their peak selling time has passed, and you can pick up a bargain.
Once you've chosen you plant and brought it home, don't forget to check whether it needs water or repotting/ planting out immediately. If it has been grown indoors, allow it to acclimatise gradually to the weather if it's going to live outside. If you've ordered plants from an online shop or mail order catalogue then it's important to unpack them as soon as they are delivered - they will need water, fresh air and sunlight.
When you've chosen the right plant and it's growing in the right place, then all you have to do is sit back and enjoy it. But don't forget to keep the receipt - if you discover a problem with one of your new plants, you'll be able to exchange it or get a refund.
Emma Cooper produces a weekly podcast (internet radio show) called The Alternative Kitchen Garden. You can read regular updates on her garden on her blog.