# 637 Two Ilex verticillata with cardboard sleeves inserted into an outer box for shipping. These one gallon potted plants arrived in perfect shape just coming out of dormancy. Unboxed, hardened off then planted these winterberries flowered and fruited just months after their arrival and planting.
Even fairly large plants like this Ilex verticillata can be shipped by UPS and FedEx. (UPS is always my choice.) This plant is in a 1.5-gallon pot and was about 2 feet tall. It gets put in a protective cardboard sleeve, seen here, then it goes into an outer shipping box. Paper put on top of the soil then taped to the pot edge prevents soil loss during shipping. ANDREW MESSINGER
A selection of larger perennials and shrubs from various mail-order nurseries. Various methods are used to keep the soil in the pots, from cardboard pot toppers secured with rubber bands to heavy-duty packing tapes. The bamboo stakes keep the plants from getting crushed as the boxes jockey through the shipping centers. ANDREW MESSINGER
An unboxing of plants received from Bluestone Perennials. This box contains Heucheras and hellebores. As many as 24 coir pots can fit in a box, 4 in a cardboard sleeve that’s then put into a shipping box. There is little to no soil loss and the plants always look great on arrival. ANDREW MESSINGER
In last week’s column I did a short review of a few of my favorite vegetable seed catalogs, the ones you can really learn from and not just buy from. This week we’ll move on to a short buyers’ guide for mail-order plants.
This includes annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs as well as fruits and berries. But why buy by mail or through the internet when we have such great local garden centers and nurseries?
Years ago there were two distinct reasons why we’d buy from mail-order nurseries. The first was selection. There simply isn’t any way that a local garden center can offer the ever-expanding list of new plants that a large mail-order nursery can offer. Having said that, not every mail-order nursery grows what they sell. Many, with very poor reputations, are simply conglomerate order-takers who pool their orders under different names. It appears that they are different nurseries, but a little detective work and you can see who owns what. One clue is that they mainly ship small, bare-root material. That can be a good clue that the plant was grown outside the United States, like in Holland. It’s then shipped to the United States without soil in refrigerated containers, redistributed, then drop shipped to you.
Now there are some plants that actually are domestically grown and shipped bare root and this is fine when they come from reputable growers. However, there’s nothing quite as depressing as spending $15 or $20 for a plant only to find out when it arrives and is unboxed that it’s just a small dormant root.
However, there are many very reputable mail-order nurseries who offer plants from small 2-inch cells up to gallon-size potted plants and even trees 3 to 5 feet tall. I’ve gotten maple trees, fruit trees, magnolias and hollies delivered by UPS and they’ve done great. On the other side, I’ve gotten tiny perennials from Roots & Rhizomes and small shrubs from Wayside Gardens that have simply been awful.
One good example of why you might want to buy online, in terms of selection, is in the Alstroemerias, or Peruvian lilies. These are relatively new to our gardens and rarely found locally. A few may show up in some online nurseries like Plant Delights, but if you look at Edelweiss Perennials in Oregon their current plant list has over 60 varieties listed. Not all are hardy here, but that’s quite an impressive list. There are also specialty nurseries where you can find growers who sell peonies, primulas, iris, daylilies and true hardy lilies and many, many more.
So, selection is one reason to buy by mail and the other reason is price. Well, it used to be price. You can still find growers like Bluestone Perennials and Delightful Gardens who will sell less-expensive plants and even plants by the flat, but in recent years shipping costs have gone through the roof and any plants that have to be shipped will add about 30 percent to your order. Suddenly that $16 perennial that you found online will cost you $21.80 delivered to your door. Not only is that a large carbon shipping and packing footprint, but it may be more than what’s being charged at the local garden center for the same or a larger plant. Still, if it’s a specific or very new plant you’re looking for, mail order and the internet may be the only way to go.
For the new gardener who wants to start simple, there’s Bluestone Perennials (bluestoneperennials.com). I’ve been buying from them for at least 40 years and just can’t say enough about their quality. The plants I get are always in great shape, and I’ve never had any shipping damage. They tend to sell the more common perennials but some are new varieties as well. They also offer some berry plants and shrubs. I often order from them when I want three or more of a particular variety, and even with shipping the prices are reasonable. Most of the perennials come in coir pots and most of their plants fill out to be the same size as gallon-sized plants sold at local nurseries in the first season. I’m not wild about the coir (coconut hull fibers) pots but they are biodegradable (very, very slowly) and I always cut them off and compost them anyway. Bluestone is also a great source for garden mums, especially those hard-to-find types used for cuts.
Edelweiss Perennials (edelweeissperennials.com) does not have a print catalog so you need to view their offerings online. They have one of the largest plant lists that you’ll find and if you’re a perennial treasure hunter this is one of the places to start. Most plants run in the $12 to $20 range (plus shipping) but with their hundreds and hundreds of offerings you’ll find stuff here that doesn’t exist elsewhere. Remember though, they are in Oregon. This means you should try to get a Monday shipping date. I had some issues with them last year as it looked like their invoicing system got hacked. Hopefully, they’ve added some extra security this year. As noted, they have great Alstroemeria offerings as well as Primula and many, many others.
Plant Delights Nursery (plantdelights.com) is second to none when it comes to tender and hardy perennial plants. When you buy from Plant Delights you pay a premium, but you’ll find plants here that you won’t find elsewhere and many have been discovered and bred by nursery owner and plant explorer Tony Advent. Tony has spoken several times out here, and if you have a chance to catch him (say at the Horticultural Alliance of the Hamptons) by all means do.
One of Plant Delights’ specialties is hardy orchids. I’ve purchased many and failed with most, but the challenge is still there. More recently I’ve bought a collection of bog plants for my new bog garden, and I can’t wait until spring to see if the plants make it through the winter and if my bog garden survives or becomes another “learning experience.”
There’s a great selection of Hellebores, ferns, shade and woodland plants. Make sure that what you order is actually hardy out here (zone 7) though you’ll find many offerings that you may want to take a chance with that might be marginally hardy.
Packing and shipping had been a problem with Plant Delights for several years, but they seem to have worked all that out. Also keep in mind that they are in North Carolina, and while high up in the mountains they still get warmer much earlier than us. I often ask them to ship a little late in the season, or I protect their early shipments from cold and wind.
The Plant Delights catalog, which is one of the must-have catalogs every single year, isn’t free. However, you should get one in the mail if you ordered from them last year. If you’re traveling down there, they also have a magnificent botanical garden.
Romence Gardens (romencegardens.com) is a retail greenhouse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I stumbled upon them a number of years ago when I was looking for a specific plant all over the country and they just happened to be the only place growing it. Since then I’ve been buying from them every year. They offer perennials, annuals, shrubs, roses, grasses, herbs and veggies. Plants that I’ve received are always in top shape and prices are average for mail order. They tend to be a bit behind us in their growing season so this is a great place to get shipments from a little later in the spring.
Graceful Gardens (gracefulgardens.com) is located upstate in the Finger Lakes. I discovered them a few years ago while looking for a source for the Dowdeswell Delphiniums. Actually, they offer 23 varieties of Delphiniums, which is hard to beat. They also have a wide range of the more common perennials, and it’s one of the few places where you can order Gallery Blue and Gallery Red lupines without having to buy mixed colors. Plants are sold in flats of four-pack cells, so the minimum order for any plant is eight with a full flat holding 24 plants, and two flats will get you a discount.
It’s incredibly easy to fill a flat so don’t let that intimidate you. Since they are pretty close, delivery usually takes a day or two with shipping costs much less than the plants going cross country. This is a great place to buy plants for a starter garden because you can get 24 plants for just $105 or under $4.50 per plant. Yes, it might take a year for them to fill out but to my delight the lupines I ordered last spring actually bloomed the same summer.
Prairie Nursery (prairienursery.com) is another place where I’ve found interesting and inexpensive plants. They offer 11 preplanned gardens including a Shoreline Buffer Garden that includes 39 plants for $139. You can also purchase plant kits, which are flats of 16 plants where you can pick and choose the plants. This is also a great way for beginners to start as you can buy one of each or any number that adds up to 16 plants. Each kit is $79, or about $5 a plant. Again, these will be small plants, but as you may have noticed, they grow. In a year or less that $5 plant would be the same as a $20 plant bought at a garden center. Check them out for sandy soil and low water requirement plants.
Here are a few other places to shop online: For most of your fruit tree needs, there’s the highly regarded Stark Brothers (starkbros.com). For Dahlias, there’s Swan Island Dahlias (dahlias.com). If Iris ring your garden bells, there’s Schreiner’s Iris Gardens (schreinersgardens.com). For hardy lilies like Orientals, trumpets, Orienpets and species, there’s B&D Lilies (bdlilies.com). They ship spring and fall depending on the crop and how it’s matured in any given year.
Fellow gardeners, order your plants. Last year was crazy with nurseries selling out early and this season will probably be no different. More next week. Keep growing
Last week I was asked if summer and winter squashes get planted at the same time. Simple answer is yes. The expanded answer is that while they are planted at the same time, summer squashes generally take about two months to mature from transplants. Winter squash, on the other hand, will take three to four months to mature.
Keep on applying those deer repellents and rotate the types or brands that you use. It’s not too early to hit the garden center and get your seed starting supplies like soil, flats, domes and labels.
If you buy seeds, keep them cool and dry. Never put seeds in the freezer.
There are perennials that you can grow from seed. You’ll pay about five cents a seed, maybe 10. In a year or two that 10-cent seed yields a $20 plant. To see the hundreds of perennials you can grow from seed, visit jelitto.com.
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