Plants by Mail
Master gardener Paul James shares the advantages of catalog and internet plant sources.
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"A lot of gardeners seem surprised at the number of plants I buy from catalog and internet sources," says master gardener Paul James. "They want to see what they buy, and I understand."
Although Paul buys plenty of plants from local nurseries, home improvement stores and at garden-club plant sales, he says catalog and internet sources offer so many more choices plus money-back guarantees that he can't resist buying from them. "My experience [with catalog and internet sources] over the years has been excellent," he adds. "Very often these companies allow you to pick your own shipping date, which is great because you don't want the plants to arrive weeks before the ideal planting time, or worse yet, during a time when you happen to be on vacation."
After you take the plunge of shopping by mail and you complete your order, Paul suggests saving the catalog or printing a copy of what you ordered. Not all companies send a catalog with your order, and the information contained in them such as planting depth and spacing requirements is essential, especially if you are unfamiliar with some of the plants you ordered.
When the big delivery day arrives, open the boxes and inspect each plant carefully. "Don't panic if your plants don't look perky and perfect," says Paul. "Remember that they've been stuck on a truck for a few days and that's just plain stressful." In the case of bare rootstock, don't worry if what you get looks dead. The plant is merely dormant, and once it has been in the ground a while, it will bounce back beautifully.
You'll notice that your plants, whether dormant or not, are carefully protected in a box or plastic wrapper or both and a moisture-protecting material such as sawdust or newspaper. Unless you're prepared to plant right away, don't remove this stuff. If it's too cold or too wet to plant, Paul recommends putting all the plants back in their original boxes and sealing the boxes well with tape. Store them in a garage where they should be fine for five to seven days. If the plants are tropical and destined for your patio, store those in the house.
When the weather improves and you're ready to plant, you have a few more choices. If your plants are well rooted, and they should be, you can go ahead and plant right away. "Although I suggest you do so either late in the day or on a cloudy day so that the plants don't stress out from too much exposure to the sun," says Paul. "Frankly though, I prefer to give pot-grown perennials and shrubs with leafy growth a chance to get acclimated to the outdoors before I put them in the ground." To do this, remove the plants from their boxes and wrappers, and place them in a sheltered spot that gets only two or three hours of morning sun for up to a week. Water the plants regularly — often every day — during that critical period.
For bare-root plants, remove the packing and wrapping material from around the roots and immerse the roots in a bucket of water for a few hours or overnight. This helps rehydrate the plant and enables it to get off to a good start once it goes into the ground. If you can't plant your bare-root plants within a week, temporarily plant them in a shallow trench in a lightly shaded area. Place the plant in the trench, cover with soil, water well and apply a light layer of mulch. You can hold plants over like this for quite a while, but the sooner you give them a permanent spot in the garden, the lesser the chance of transplant shock. Also, Paul recommends getting bare-root plants in the soil well before hot temperatures arrive.
You can also give plants a temporary or permanent home by planting them in containers. Paul will put this rather rare specimen of a Japanese maple in a terra-cotta pot. "If I were to put this little thing directly into the ground, its odds of surviving might not be that great," he says.
Keep the label that comes with each plant. You don't necessarily need to leave the label attached to the plant or stick it in the ground for that matter. Just hold on to it because very often the label contains important information like how tall and wide the plant grows, how often it blooms and more.
The planting techniques for mail-order plants are identical to store-bought plants. For a potted plant, remove the plant from its container. Tease the roots a bit, and plant no deeper than the plant was growing in its container. For bare-root plants, prepare a saucer-shaped planting hole two or three times larger than the root ball. Prepare a cone with soil, spread the roots out on the cone, and firm the soil around the roots with your hands. Once you have all your plants in the ground, water well and apply a light layer of mulch. Continue to water every few days until the plants perk up a bit, and then switch to a regular watering schedule or simply water only when the plants need it.
"After that," Paul concludes, "you can kick back and wait for your next order of plants to arrive in the mail."
In this project learn how to create a polymer clay bead plant hanger for your indoor or outdoor plant containers.