January 10, 2011

Tips for Ordering Plants by Mail



If you are planning to order plants from a catalog or website, here are a few tips that I've learned from past experiences. Why order by mail? I grew up watching my dad order plants from catalogs. He lived in a small town with few nurseries close by, so catalogs were the only way to get much of a selection. Catalogs and the internet offer an endless selection of plants that you may not be able to find locally. The pictures in this post don't have much to do with the words - they're just random photos that haven't fit into other posts yet. Above is 'Eglantyne' rose.



I have learned that even if my favorite local nursery (Gibson's - which is just a mile or two away from home) doesn't have a plant in stock, they can often order it to be delivered on the truck that's coming anyway in a week or two. This is a better deal than ordering online, because I don't have to pay shipping, and I get a 1-gallon perennial instead of a 2- or 3-inch pot (which is what often comes by mail) for the same price. After looking at 'Summerwine' yarrow (Achillea) in catalogs all last summer, I happened upon it in during the fall clearance at Gibson's. I brought home a hefty plant for just $7.50. I was glad I hadn't paid twice that much plus shipping to order it online. Above is Salvia 'Victoria' or 'Evolution' - I can't remember.



If you can't find a plant locally, it's easy to research a new catalog or internet nursery through GardenWatchdog. When you type in the name or zip code of the company, you'll find ratings of plant quality and customer service from past customers. The 'Watchdog 30' list shows the 30 top rated companies and is a good place to find a reputable mail-order company. I've been pleased with plants from Bluestone Perennials, Oakes Daylilies and Forestfarm, all of which are on the top 30 list. Above is 'Vintage Pink' double petunia.



When buying groceries with kids in tow, I'm a big fan of one-stop shopping. But I don't order plants that way. I love finding a nursery that specializes in the plant I'm craving and searching through their huge selection for the perfect cultivar(s) for my garden. These types of nurseries know just how to handle their specialty plants, so you'll get a quality, well-cared for plant in the mail. I've had good experiences with these specialty nurseries: Swenson Gardens for peonies, Joe Pye Weed's Garden for siberian iris, Swan Island Dahlias, White Oak Nursery for daylilies and hostas, and David Austin Roses for english roses. Above is 'Rozanne' geranium.



When catalogs sell out of some plants, they often substitute something similar. That drives me crazy! The reason I order by mail is so I can get exactly what I want. If you don't want subs, make sure you indicate it on your order. Try to order early to reduce the chances that your plant is sold out. Last year I ordered a 'super poppy' from Heronswood and forgot to tell them 'no subs'. They sent me two plants of a different kind of poppy instead. Although it was generous for them to substitute two plants for the one I had ordered, they were the wrong color for my garden and I had to give them away. I don't want to bash Heronswood - I love their hellebores! - but I'll be sure to write 'no subs' on my order next time. Above is 'Endless Summer' hydrangea.



Are you obsessive compulsive about color like me? While considering a plant from an online nursery, it's easy to open another tab and google the plant's name to find pictures of it in real gardens. I'm always wary of 'true blue' pictures in catalogs, because so few plants are actually blue. If you see a blue rose, tulip or daylily offered, be aware that it will be lavender in real life. Although siberian irises can be true blue, you can see that the 'Blueberry Fair' flower above is actually blue-violet.



Finally, remember that the prettiest catalog doesn't necessarily have the best plants or best values. I order something every once in a while from White Flower Farm so they'll keep sending me their luscious catalogs, but I can often find a better value elsewhere. Van Engelen's paper catalog doesn't include any photos (though their website does), but their bulb prices are amazing.
I hope these tips help make your mail-order experience better! If you have some words of wisdom, please leave a comment to share. Above is Forget Me Not (Myosotis), which is a very true blue.

18 comments:

  1. Lovely pictures as always - especially the composition and colour in the rose at the top and the detail in the hydrangea

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  2. Nice, nice post! I appreciate the links. I've ordered from some of your choices, but it's always nice to check out new ones!! :-) Happy 2011 planning!

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  3. Good things to keep in mind when plant shopping. Your photos are super as always. Sometimes I order online for small multiples....so I can do a large planting area.

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  4. Very helpfu1! I was going to try ordering roses this year and was wondering just how small they come? I remember you mentioning the Garden Watchdog before and have been researching the companies that I may use. These posts really are great, especially for people like me that rarely mail order plants.

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  5. It's worth googling a mail order co. and clicking discussions on the google sidebar. Always handy to see what experiences others have had on the web.

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  6. Catherine,
    The roses I've received from David Austin are pretty big - maybe 3 feet long (including roots) and a bit less than a foot wide, depending on how wide the branches/roots spread out. Anything that will ship bareroot (and survive) is usually a good mail-order prospect. That includes roses, daylilies, hostas and iris. Tubers like cannas, dahlias, and peonies work well for shipping, and of course all bulbs. Some companies ship a lot of perennials bareroot, and some of those plants make me nervous. Because companies don't have to pay to ship the soil and pot, bareroot plants are often good-sized for the price. You should go to davidaustinroses.com and request a catalog - you'd enjoy the beautiful pictures and lots of good info.

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  7. Excellent post, VW! I agree with all of your tips. I am the same way about plants and colors. No subs for me. I also like your point about the prettiest catalogs is not necessarily having the best quality plants. Lovely photos too!

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  8. Great post...so many good point that I think a lot of us can totally relate to! I always laugh at the pictures in catalogs with those ULTRA BLUE flowers...especially for plants I know for a fact are purple. The fact that some continue to do this when anyone with a computer could google an image of the true flower amazes me :-)

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  9. Such good advice! I am always wary of ordering plants from catalogs... they usually die en-route with our cruddy weather springs.
    I have had some success with High country gardens.
    And I love Van E. Luscious stuff there.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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  10. I've always been wary of ordering plants by mail; these tips will give me more confidence. I'm saving this for future reference. Thanks!! -Jean

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  11. great ideas. I keep ordering bulbs then forgetting to plant them. There are some in my fridge right now - $35 worth!!

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  12. Dear VW~One word:Gorgeous describes your photos and Informative: describes your post! Thank you for saving me from myself, she says with $100 of plants in the cart at an online nursery site! gail

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  13. Beautiful photos. I love Iris and that is such a pretty one. Wish I had more space for more colors. I found your blog on blotancial and will add you to my blog roll. Looking forward to reading more from you.

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  14. Great informative post. I am a nut for blue flowering plants and shrubs. I allow for a blue lavender or blue violet. I think it makes my garden a little less one dimensional.

    I am totally with you on the substitutions. Wrong color... find it a home.

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  15. dear VW, I love the way you intersperse the photos with the discussion about mail order. We are very restricted here because of such stringent quarantine laws - I don't think we can even order or bring in seeds or plants from other Australian states. In any case, I find most nurseries pathetic now, with a small number of trendy fashionable plants. For Australian natives I drive 45 minutes each way to Kuranga that specializes in natives, and for everything else there is Diggers Club - mail order or one and a half hour drive each way.
    I see how you use your macro lens - looks great! - hopefully I will be able to do it too in time.
    cheers, catmint

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  16. your photos are amazing V. LOVE them all. they do bring sunshine to the soul. :)

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