Buying Plants from Catalogs: Tips for Success

19 Ways to Ensure Success when ordering plants through a mail-order catalog.

| December/January 1993

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    Gardeners love to spend their winters dreaming over a stack of glossy gardening catalogs.

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If there’s one thing MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers receive more of than Christmas cards, it's gardening catalogs. And what better time for these catalogs to arrive in the mail than in the dead of winter, when frozen or wet ground keeps you out of the garden? Unless you're lucky enough to live near a large garden center, you'll have a hard time getting heirloom varieties or the seasons hottest hybrids, except through catalogs. The quality of products you can get by mail is often better, too. Bulbs and seeds displayed in retail racks won’t do nearly as well as items that remain properly stored until your order is shipped. Catalogs carry a greater variety not only of seeds and plants, but also of gardening supplies and high-quality, long-lasting tools. But mail-order gardening can be more aggravation than convenience, unless you follow these common-sense rules: 

1. Buy from firms with established reputations. 

One way to check up on a mail-order company is to contact the Better Business Bureau in the city where the company is located. The BBB can tell you how cooperative the firm is in settling problems and whether or not it has unresolved complaints against it.

Barbara Barton, author of Gardening by Mail, recommends ordering with caution from any catalog that does not list the name of the proprietor and a phone number. "After all," she says, "these people are in business and should be willing to communicate with their customers."

2. Order from several different catalogs.

Until you find a firm that carries everything you need, and that you enjoy dealing with, spread your orders around. You'll be surprised at the differences between companies. One important thing to look for is a firm that provides planting instruction that is compatible with your degree of gardening knowledge. Some companies offer comprehensive instructions; others supply no directions at all.

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