Tips for ordering plants online

Tips for ordering plants online

by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

In the Midwest, there's not a lot to do in the garden this time of year except plotting the upcoming growing season.

You can begin purchasing next season's dreams as soon as the garden catalogs arrive and e-mail alerts from your garden center hit the inbox.

There are many reasons to order plants by mail. The selection is much broader than you'll find at most garden centers. It's also a great way to get unusual or hard-to-find plants.

Make sure to keep your order paperwork to confirm your shipments or if there's a problem with the purchase. Several Midwestern plant purveyors offer these additional tips for consumers preparing to order their garden online:

Order plants online early

"Every year, people contact us in the fall and are disappointed to discover that some of the bulbs they want are already sold out," says Scott Kunst, owner and head gardener of Old House Gardens, a specialist in heirloom bulbs located in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Chris Hansen, co-owner of Great Garden Plants in Holland, Mich., an online retailer that specializes in perennials and shrubs, suggests looking for retailers that accept early orders, but don't bill your credit card until the plants actually ship.

 "This is extremely important," Hansen says. "Because plants aren't shipped until they can be planted in your region, which may be months away. What happens if there's a crop failure? Insist that your card not be billed until your order ships."

Order plants from in your region

Try to order from catalogs or online retailers in your region Woody plants are usually grown in pots or in the ground outdoors. When they come from a nursery in your region, they're already acclimated to the local environment and usually establish themselves more quickly. If you order from a Florida or Tennessee grower, the stock may be slightly less hardy than what's needed to survive in the Midwest.

Know your plant size

Also, make sure you know what size of plant you're purchasing. There are many sizes, from 3-inch pots to 5-gallon containers. "Generally, the larger the plant the higher the price," says Jeff Dinslage, president of Nature Hills Nursery in Omaha, Neb. "There are also bare-root plants, which usually offer a larger plant for less money, and are less expensive to ship."

Place small orders of plants first

If you've never ordered from the company before, place a small order early in the season. "If the service and plants are as you would wish, a follow-up order can be placed," says Gene Bush, co-owner of Munchkin Nursery and Gardens in Depauw, Ind., which specializes in shade perennials and hard-to-find native plants.

Experiement when ordering plants

Lastly, don't be afraid to experiment. "I think that's half the fun of gardening," Kunst says. "One of the best things about buying plants by mail is there's mind-boggling diversity to choices. You could drive to every nursery and garden center within an hour of your home and still not find one-tenth of the plant varieties offered online."

Sometimes known as the Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp lives in Indianapolis and is part owner and editor of Indiana Living Green magazine. Her work has also appeared in many other publications, including The American Gardener, Garden Gate and Greenhouse Grower. In addition, Meyers Sharp speaks about gardening and sustainable living throughout the Midwest and is a director of the Garden Writers Association.

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