Buying new plants for the indoor garden is a pleasure but it can also be a problem. The widespread interest in plants has brought them into the mass market stores, such as supermarkets and chain drugstores, to which everyone has ready access. The specialized plant store, greenhouse or florist shop, where guidance in selection and care of plants is available, are less accessible as a general rule.

We are probably most frequently aware of the plants when we shop in the supermarkets or the drug store, where the choices can be repetitious. Since the managers and clerks of such stores do not consider plants their first responsibility, the customer must know how to choose.

Someadvance knowledge of the characteristics of a particular plant will help you be a better judge of its condition and prospects for future development. Also, because of differences in care requirements, you need to know whether the plant is suited to the environment in your home. If you do not know before you buy, you should find out when you buy or soon after you take your plant home.

One of the limitations in shopping at stores where plants are only a sideline is that reliable information may not be obtainable there. If you are totally in-experienced, you will need more help than is likely to be available from staff members who must handle everything from bananas to zucchini.

There are some exceptions. Last spring one of the large supermarket chains provided its Northern Virginia customers with a well-illustrated and accurately written guide to plant care.

Many of the supermarkets, variety stores and drugstores offer well-grown mature plants, already exhibiting the characteristics for which they are admired and desired. in other instances, plants are offered in seedling or juvenile stages. You will find that it's fun and satisfying to grow a plant from seedling to maturity. Moreover, these small specimens are a good investment because they can become acclimated to the environment of your home gradually as they mature.

I have visited many outlets of this kind and for the most part have found the quality good. But it is not uniformly good. It is usually possible to find out when a fresh shipment is to be received. Plan your purchase to coincide with that date.

As you survey the array of plants, look for a label. The presence of a label that gives the name of the plant, as well as the price, gives more assurance that the grower took some care with his product.

Don't be timid about inspecting a plant before you buy. Leaves give a clear indication of a plant's condition. They should be crisp and firm and of good color. Plants with yellowed, withered leaves are usually removed from sale, but sometimes a plant may have been on display too long or may be suffered from careless handling.

Be selective. Examine leaf tips of palms and dracaenas, for instance( they may have been clipped to remove brown tips. Flowers past their prime should have been removed.

Don't take home a plant that has obviously been under stress from too much or too little water, from cold drafts, or from careless handling. There's nothing to be gained by paying for and taking home a problem.

A flowering plant should have both flowers and buds that give assurance of a long period of bloom.

Good top growth and, for branching types, branching low on the stem, usually indicate healthy roots. Roots showing on the soil surface or growing out the drainage hole are a sign that the plant is potbound. That can mean you would have to repot almost at once.

The plants I have observed in these non-specialty outlets have been pestfree. But do examine the underside of leaves and leaf axils of any plant you contemplate buying. Those are likely places in which to find mealy bugs, spider mites. Gum or sap deposits, curling leaves and delicate webs are evidence of insect damage.

When you get your new plant home, isolate it from your other plants for a couple or weeks until you are sure you have not carried in unseen pests. This practice not only gives you a chanve to investigate for signs of infestation but also gives the plant a chance to adjust to the change of environment.

Growers and shippers of houseplants now generally give a "finishing" treatment of reduced light, moisture and fertilizer for a period of several days to several weeks before shipment to the retailer to minimize the shock of the change from their ideal growing conditions to the indoor environment. This practice makes it possible for you to buy plants that have already been somewhat acclimated to the growing conditions in your home.

However, there may still be some adjustment to undergo in your home - foliage turning yellow or dropping, for example. The adjustment period may last up to a month. Keep the plant in a relatively cool place with the bright light but not direct sunlight during this time.

No matter where you buy your plant, there is still no substitute for knowing the plant and its needs.