Downloading the Garden

Master gardener Paul James explains the benefits of shopping online.

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Online shopping is a great way to find just the right spring-flowering bulbs for your garden.

Online shopping is a great way to find just the right spring-flowering bulbs for your garden.

The internet has opened up a whole new world for gardeners. With just a few clicks, you can plan something as simple as how to plant a tree, to something as esoteric as how many months the seeds of most maple trees must be stored at 40 degrees F to ensure proper germination (three months).

"But the internet offers gardeners much more than mere information. It's also a dynamite source of cool products, which is why it's one of my favorite places to shop," says master gardener Paul James. "In fact, websites often features products long before they reach retail shelves and plants that you simply won't find at most conventional retail outlets, whether nurseries or home and garden centers. As a result, I figure that as many as 30 percent of the plants in my landscape came from internet sites. Most are evergreens, because that happens to be one of my favorite plant groups and because local retailers simply don't stock enough choices of choice evergreens." The same is true of spring-flowering bulbs and heirloom vegetable seeds because there are so many more choices available.

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In many cases, the internet companies are catalog companies as well. It's sometimes nice to view a printed catalog before placing an order. "While some sites may offer beautiful pictures and lengthy detailed plant descriptions, others, especially those that deal in rare and unusual or hard to find plants, may offer only a brief description and no pretty pictures at all. So you want to make sure you do your homework on any pretty plants you plan on buying from them."

Another great thing about websites is that many of them offer fairly large plants, unlike most catalog companies, which rarely ship anything larger than say, a 4-inch to one-gallon pot. "However, realize that large plants — unless shipped bare-root — can cost you a small fortune," he says. "In fact, the shipping costs can exceed the cost of the plant itself. Still, it may be worth it if it's the only way to acquire a prized plant."

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