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When flowers go bad – are you guaranteed a refund?

Dead plant

You’d expect a plant bought from a garden centre to thrive, but what if it doesn’t? Have you tried to take a plant back to a retailer and, if so, were you given a replacement or a refund?

If I didn’t work at Which?, it probably wouldn’t occur to me to take a plant back if it didn’t grow very well. I’d probably blame myself, or put it down to experience. But according to our research into plant returns, it’s definitely worth doing.

We surveyed almost 1,000 Which? members to find out about their experiences, and the good news is that it’s definitely worth taking a plant back if you’re not happy with it.

Only a fifth of those who had experienced problems had tried to return a plant, but those who did were pleased with the outcome. Six in ten received a replacement and about a fifth received a refund. Only one in ten shoppers were refused any kind of compensation.

The growth of plant guarantees

gardeninfographicMany garden centres now offer guarantees on hardy plants, some as long as five years. Under the Sale of Goods Act you can take a plant back without a guarantee, but the advantage of a guarantee is that it gives you more time – if you’ve waited for it to flower or fruit, for example.

In this picture you can see the guarantees offered by major garden retailers, and what you’ll need to show them. ‘Proof of purchase’ is anything that shows where a specific item was bought. A receipt is the best example, but it may include an email confirmation and possibly a credit-card statement (although this will only show the trader’s name, the date of purchase and the amount paid, not the product details).

We’d love to know if you’ve ever taken a plant back, and how you got on. Were you offered a replacement or a refund, and were you happy with the outcome?


I’ve been guilty of not returning houseplants if they go wrong. I usually blame myself for a lack of skill, but maybe I didn’t overwater/underwater the poor thing… Nah, I probably did.

If it happens again, I’ll do my best to take the plant back to where I bought it.

I bought a number of shrubs from Buckingham Garden Centre at the beginning of last spring. A number failed to thrive, or died, even though I had been careful in planting them – good compost, a decent size hole and water. I didn’t complain, but emailed photos of the plants to the garden centre for their comments. They replied straight away and offered to replace or refund them, so we paid them another visit. It seemed that they had imported from Belgium and the hard winter had damaged a lot of plants. We simply selected more plants we wanted and were credited in full. They couldn’t have been more helpful. We’ll use them again!
What does irritate me is the garden centres who supply bedding plants far too early in the season, so any frost kills them, and they have to be replaced with another batch. Many new gardeners don’t realise that late May is probably the earliest you should plant them, and even then you might need to protect them from June frosts. It seems to be taking advantage of lack of knowledge.

I never buy indoor plants as I have a history of not caring for them. Saying that I have a Christmas plant that was a present and that seems to be ok so far. I tell people not to buy me a plant as I will eventually kill it. I much prefer fresh flowers as I know they will last about a week and look good for that period.

The best indoor plants by far are orchids – last ages, not difficult to look after and not expensive (compared to a short-lived bunch of cut flowers). Cut flowers at Christmas – chrysanthemums. Otherwise grow flowers in your garden – dahlias produce masses of cut flowers until the frosts.

I forgot that I buy white hyacinths every spring and they last about six weeks and need very little care. They have a lovely fragrance and hold beautiful memories for me. I treat myself to a bunch of flowers instead of chocolate or wine. I currently buy two bunches of daffodils for £2 and they really brighten up me and my home. Better value than a starbucks coffee.

I may try out orchids for Easter and see how they fare with me.

Bulbs in pots are good value – they can go in the garden afterwards.
The key with orchids is to follow the instructions on watering (let it drain through) and light – you shouldn’t go far wrong and they will produce more flowers in the future. We buy Moth Orchids (Phaleanopsis) for around £6-7, occasionally £16 with 3 flowering stems; much better value than a bunch of flowers that lasts a week. Good luck!

Thanks for the advice. I will try out orchids but I’ll still buy my fresh flowers as I feel that I deserve a treat as I do not spend any money on myself normally.

Margaret says:
21 May 2013

At the end of June last year I bought 2 Wisterias. One reduced half price and one full priced but cheaper from Newlands garden centre in Sutton Coldfield.
The reduced plant did not thrive and I phoned them in August to tell them I though it was dieing. They said “is it dead? ” I said no but dropping it’s leaves. They said “Bring it back when it’s dead”
I left it over winter and now it appears to be dead. No new growth whereas the other plant is growing well.
I rang them today and told them again and what was said last August and asked if it would be guaranteed. The lady said if it was reduced it might not be and I should ring back in the morning and check with their plant buyer.
Surely it shouldn’t make any difference under the sale of goods act whether it was reduced or not?

Chris Whitehouse says:
17 April 2015

I returned a rose bush which died within 6 months of purchase.
I had a receipt and other proof of where I had bought it from.
B&Q flatly refused to even entertain it. The assistant was extremely rude in fact. I have now made an official complaint.

Sp53edy says:
27 May 2015

I bought a fruit plant from THE RANGE whitebirk Blackburn . 2 hours late went to return it Cus it was wrong one wanted a tree.
All I wanted to do was exchange the plant for a tree and pay more on top no package was touch no notting but they tock the p**s in that store. The funny thing is I use this store many times I never have had a problem when in my work cloths , when I went for an exchange I was in my mosque cloths so I was treated different . I was stuck with a plant which I didn’t need

Hi, I recently bought 100 periwinkles from Victoriana nursery online back in April 2017.
7 survived, 97 have not. They were bare root. We did everything right but believe we were sent a faulty batch.
Serena Shirley at the nursery is currently dealing with our complaint, unfortunately she is not taking any responsibility, continue to blame us and refuses to give us free replacement plants or a refund. Has anyone got any advice ?

Sharon says:
9 January 2018

The problem with live plants and flowers is they do need care and attention. often people don’t research the care required before purchasing them. Reduced plants are reduced for a reason .they are not at there best. some plants are weak and may not thrive or when bought in full flower May not have long left before they go back till the next season. Always find out how to care for plants and flowers to get the best results. For example if a acid loving plant isn’t in the correct soil it will fail to thrive, but that’s not the suppliers fault.

Liz Karkowski says:
3 July 2018

I bought 2 rose trees through LivingSocial but received 2 dead trees. I contacted the company who tell me to return them at my own cost and they will refund me the cost of the plants but not postage, Is this legal ?

I brought an Acer Palmatum established tree that is grown in a very large container, at a cost of £500 from our local garden center, which we shop regally, we explained to them that we didn’t want to plant a tree as thought the roots would damage a new drive. We took advise from the garden center in regards to different trees, however 4 months later there seems a problem, which they say is likely due to drying out and the winds, they used the storm we had earlier in the year. It was not allowed to dry out, as it was well cared for, even in the very hot weather. They have however offered to look after it through the winter and return it in spring to help bring it back to its former self. I have been given conflicting information regarding the tree, ie. its delicate, the winds can damage it, then another email saying its one of the sturdier Acers, the position is OK where we had it placed.

They need to make up their minds in regards to this tree, its either delicate or sturdy!

They are not offering to replace it with a hardier specimen, and said they take no responsibility, and are nursing it back as a good will gesture. What are my rights as it was expensive and has been cared for as instructed. I feel i being a bit fobbed off. I have agreed they can look after but that it dose not waive my consumer rights. What else can i do in regards to this as i feel they did not provide the correct, or enough information when we were seeking their advise on the purchase.

Lynn Ward says:
23 August 2019

In 2016, I purchased a magnolia tree from Junkers Nursery Ltd, in memory of my parents. Every year since then the plant has not flowered and the leaves start to die in weeks of them coming through. I paid £175 for the tree and £60 delivery. This year I decided to e-mail Karen Junker to ask if she could give me any advice on what to do, before I loose the tree completely. Karen asked me to e-mail photo’s, and I did this. I received no response from Karen, so thinking that maybe she is busy I e-mailed again. Once again no reply. Can anyone advise me on what I can do, or if i can do anything?

Hi Lynn – I suggest that you find out if the soil or other conditions might not be right or if there are signs of disease. Here is one source of information: https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/popular/magnolia/growing-guide

I have saved plants that have not thrived by moving them to pots or another part of the garden, but that’s not an option with a tree.

If the worst comes to the worst and you have to plant a new memorial tree, have a look around and see what is thriving in neighbours’ gardens, paying attention to the species, since requirements often differ with species.

It’s a pity that the company has not responded but you could try ringing.

You could ask the RHS (although you might have to be a member). They have some advice here https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/popular/magnolia/growing-guide. You could approach https://www.forestryengland.uk/westonbirt-the-national-arboretum
or perhaps ask Thompson and Morgan.