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Quick Online Plant Buying Guide


There are many reasons to buy plants online. For one, you can find a much wider variety online than you ever will at even the best nurseries. Another great reason is that you can save a ton of money! Sometimes as much as 90%+. That being said, there are a few things that you should consider before you take the online nursery plunge.

Patience is Key

If you are the type that has to have a full grown plant or tree the moment you put it in the ground and don’t mind paying through the nose, then online plants are not for you. The vast majority of online nurseries stock young and small plants, trees and shrubs. That’s why they offer such great prices. This is not to say , however, that it will take forever for your online plants to get to a nice size. Most of the plants I have planted have taken 1 year or less to get to a nice size. In many cases, I have had online plants grow incredibly fast and look just as nice in 1 year as any plant offered at my local nurseries. Trees of course will take time regardless of how fast they grow. That being said, it won’t make much of a difference if the tree starts out at 3′ or 6′ if it grows 1′ a year. 10 years from the time you plant it, the 3′ tree will be 13′ while the 6′ will be 16′, hardly a difference at all other than the 3′ tree cost you 90% less than the 6′ tree. In any case, if you have the patience and like saving money, then online plant nurseries are for you.

Timing is Everything

One of the drawbacks of online plant buying is that you have to buy at the right time. Too early in the spring and you get that unexpected frost that kills your new plantings. Too early in the fall, it gets a little warm and your dormant online trees break dormancy. Order when it’s too hot and your plants will expire in transit. So it’s important to buy your plants at the right time. Late spring and early summer are great. I have also had great success with planting things throught the summer. It really just depends on what type of plants, trees or shrubs you are getting. I have had the best luck planting trees and shrubs in late spring early summer. I have also had luck planting them in late fall/early winter here in zone 7. Worst luck has been planting in early fall. With perennial type plants, I have had the best luck planting late spring and early to mid summer. I have found that perennials need some time to establish before it gets too cold. Bulbs are a different story because you have summer bulbs and spring bulbs. Those are pretty straight forward when it comes time to buy. My suggestion is to consider your local weather first and foremost. Don’t expect online nurseries to be weather forecasters because it is impossible for them to time things pefectly.

Pick the Right Plant

One of the easiest ways to have success with online plants is to pick the right plants. By this I mean, choose species that are not extremely finicky. If they are hard to grow, they will be even harder to grow when you introduce the stresses of shipping. Also pick plant species that are generally vigorous. Don’t buy an oak tree that takes 50 years to grow to maturity and expect it to do much in a short period of time.

Don’t give them up for dead

One of the biggest complaints I have read is that people are dissapointed to receive dormant plants, trees or shrubs. They receive a “stick” in the mail and they assume it’s dead. When buying plants online, you should be aware that many online nurseries sell “dormant” trees/shrubs/plants. This means that they are artificially kept in a dormant state by keeping them in freezers until they arrive at your door and are planted. Once you plant them, they can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to get going. If you are not sure, give them the scratch test (for woody plants) by scratching a little bit of bark off with your fingernail. If it is green or white underneath the bark, your plant is probably still alive. Last year, I ordered some hydrangeas and rose of sharons from Directgardening.com. They arrived as “sticks”. Some of them started growing leaves almost immediately other take a couple of weeks. This year, you would never know it because they are full plants that look like they have been there for years. The moral of the story is, realize that you are getting “dormant” plants so don’t assume they are dead.

Know What You Are Getting

All online nurseries offer wonderful pictures of the stuff they sell. While they are great representations of what you plants may look like in the future, they will NOT look like that when you get them. Most of them sell dormant bare root plants, trees and shrubs. If you don’t know what that means, it usually means that you will either get “sticks” if getting tress and/or shrubs and roots with little to no top growth if you are getting perennials. This doesn’t mean they won’t grow or won’t grow fast. It’s simply the best way to ship and store them. That’s why you get great prices. You may feel mislead by the pictures but if you think about it, would you buy plants from them if they showed you pictures of sticks and roots? After all, everything would look the same and how would you know what your plants will look like?
Don’t Go Overboard

Another common thing that I always see are comments like “I ordered $350 worth of plants and they all died…”. I find this both funny and amazing because as cheap as they are, ordering $350 worth of plants can literally mean hundreds of plants. Do you have time to plant that many in a few days? I know I don’t. If I bought that many, 75% of them would be dead before I got around to planting them. Instead, place small orders. I have found that $50 worth of plants is still alot of plants.

Well, that’s all I have for now. Hopefully, this will help you with your online plant ordering. If you have never tried it, I highly recommend it because you can get great plants at great prices. It can also be very rewarding watching that “stick” or “root” grow to be a full sized plants. If you don’t know where to order from, here are some of my favorites that I have had great success with: Directgardening.com, Michiganbulb.com, Bloomingbulb.com, bluestoneperennials.com and Worldplants.com.

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