Ten Tips for Buying from Plant and Seed Catalogs

Seeds for plantingMy spouse is a long time gardener from a long line of gardeners. Every January we are inundated with seed, plant and flower catalogs. Around here January and February are the depths of winter – cold, snowy and blowy, so the arrival of the catalogs is a welcome diversion.

We have ordered everything from trees to blueberries; from seeds to bulbs and roots via catalogs. Some have disappointed, others resulted in spectacular showings.

Here are some tips for you to consider when buying seeds, bulbs, roots or plants from a catalog or online source.

Know what you want.

Everything, and I mean everything, looks good to me in the dead of winter. Luscious strawberries, ripe juicy peaches, beautiful tulips, smoke trees, pine trees, oak trees, bleeding heart plants, house plants – everything. Don’t get carried away because it is winter and you are bored and housebound!

Consider the source and product.

After many years, my spouse found several companies he prefers to use. Some are wholesale, others he likes because of the type and quality of product they sell. Some have been discarded due to high prices, shipping the wrong item or arrival of the plant in bad condition.

Sensible survival says to be wary of heirloom seeds, saying:

“Here’s the problem. A lot of seed companies are taking advantage of the heirloom seed craze to reap huge profits on some types of seed. Many of the seeds that companies have been selling for years are heirloom seeds, they just haven’t been labeled as such. So now these companies will take the same seed, put it in a package labeled “HEIRLOOM VARIETY”, and double the price. If you are not familiar with heirloom varieties, and you want to buy heirloom seeds, you may end up paying way more than you need to for your seed.”

Some unhappy buyers complain about low seed counts in the packages. You can look for consumer reported issues with catalogs in places such as The Rip Off Report. You can also just search for reviews, using criteria such as “plant catalog reviews“.

Match your growing conditions to the plant.

Every description in the catalog should indicate what kind of sun or shade, moisture, growing season length, space and soil conditions this particular plant likes. If the plant wants sun, you are going to waste your money if you buy it for your shady yard! If the plant wants an acid soil, you may have to spend additional money to amend the soil where you want to plant it.

Be aware of the mature plant needs.

That cute little cedar tree may grow into a mammoth ground hog with 20 foot long branches crowding everything around it to death.

Be aware of how you will protect it from wildlife in your area.

If you have to surround your plant with high wire fencing to keep out the moose, deer or rabbits, you may not enjoy it as much as you hoped.

Don’t expect your order to be filled right away.

Most dependable plant and seed companies will ship to your address at the correct time for you to plant, not when you send in your order.

When it comes, plant it now!

We’ve watched relatives throw their money away on spring flowering bulbs by not planting them in the fall when the bulbs arrive for planting. Don’t let your plants wither for lack of sun, soil and water – no matter how well they come packaged.

Buy in bulk.

If you intend to do large plantings, as we have done with our thousands of daffodils, it pays to buy in bulk from wholesale growers. My husband uses K. van Bourgondien & Sons, inc for his bulb buying. There are also several places you can buy flower bulbs online in bulk.

Don’t count on your plant looking like the one in the catalog.

Just as food commercial producers do everything in their power to make the product appealing, growers and plant companies are going to show you the perfect picture of the mature plant in their catalog.

Buy small.

If you have the time, when buying trees, consider using your state nursery. Not only will it stock species that are native to your area, and thus have a better chance of success, but they are usually less expensive than retail or wholesale sites or catalogs. You probably can choose between seedlings (think tiny little guys less than a year old) or saplings (a bit bigger around and taller).

Seedling  trees are the easiest to plant as the hole can be much smaller, as well as easier to establish. We planted seedling short leaf pine for many years on a farm in the Ozarks – several hundred a year. They were beautiful 30 – 40 feet tall trees when we finally sold the place and a major reason for the sale.

Do you buy for your garden online or from print/mail catalogs?  What are your tips?


Ten Tips for Buying from Plant and Seed Catalogs — 2 Comments

  1. Ah, but those catalogs are hard to resist, aren’t they? I’m just going through my stock of seeds this weekend, and I have a firm resolve to not buy any more packets until I plant what I have (for better or worse).

    • Good for you. Even if the package says the seeds are expired, you can still give them a try – most likely some will sprout. My hubby once took the remains of a flower arrangement I got for a birthday, shook out the seeds and planted them – and they came up!

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