Catalog Plant Shopping the Wise Way: Make Your Garden Dollars Count

But all mail order companies, whether their catalogs are online or in print, are not equal. And falling in love with too many plants can lead to garden design disaster.

Knowing a company’s reputation and the needs of your garden can save you money and lead to a better garden design.

Check the Company’s Reputation Before wasting time drooling over the myriad of plants in any catalog, check to make sure the company is a reputable one, known for sending out healthy plants, and with a good customer service policy. Healthy plants are a must.

Many companies have a good return policy, mainly because they get so many complaints about their plants. They rely on the inertia principle – that many customers will simply shrug and blame the poor quality of the plants on their own lack of skill, or the slowness of the delivery. Those that do complain get replacements but these are usually no better than the originals.

Before ordering from any catalog, check with gardening friends and see what experiences they may have had with the company. Or check online, where many gardeners’ forums discuss their mail order plant experiences. A great resource is the Garden Watchdog which has reviewed nearly 3500 mail order gardening companies, with 46,267 reports from customers both satisfied and extremely dissatisfied. Better safe than sorry (and a bit poorer.)

Deciding What to Order

It’s so easy to fall in love with dozens of plants, wanting to order dozens of different ones. Luckily, most budgets won’t permit that. But narrowing an order down simply by what is affordable can lead to unhappy plants, or a patchwork garden full of unremarkable dots of color.

Know that there is actually a place in the garden waiting to welcome that beautiful shrub clematis – and that this spot has the cultural conditions the plant requires in order to thrive. If that blank space is in sun and the plant wants shade; if it likes a lot of moisture and the vacant spot is in a hard-to-irrigate spot, pass it by.
As a rule, order plants in multiples of threes or fives. – A very large plant or shrub, however, may have enough of an impact to stand in solitary splendor.

Odd numbers look best when planted together – they form a drift of color, shape and texture. A garden of drifts is far preferable to one of many multicolored dots, which is what can happen when one falls victim to plant lust. Even numbers of plants will end up looking like ducks in a line no matter they are arranged.

Order fewer plants, but more of them. Very slender plants such as gladiolus or lilies look best in large groups of nine or more; otherwise they can get lost in the landscape. Bushier plants such as lavender or perennial geranium can stand out in groups of three.

Checklist Before Ordering

● Make sure the catalog comes from a reputable company.
● Don’t order a plant unless the garden has a place for it.
● Make certain the plant’s cultural needs can be met in that space.
● Order in multiples of odd numbers, depending on the size and width of the plant.
● Don’t give into temptation and throw out the budget. Order wisely and the garden display in the coming seasons will be all the more beautiful.