For gardeners, long winter months spent browsing catalogs is a rite of passage to spring. When the robins return and green things begin to grow, it's time to stop dreaming and buy those plants and bulbs. Although a visit to the greenhouse or plant nursery reveals a host of plants to choose from, sometimes mail-order catalogs are you only choice for hard-to-find plants or those for specialty gardens. Choosing a reliable source and planning ahead makes ordering plants and bulbs by mail a positive experience.
Locate a reliable seed company. (See references for seed catalogs.) Examine the site or catalog carefully to determine reliability. Check the "about us" section and choose an established company.
Look for money back or replacement guarantees. Reputable companies stand behind their products and replace plants or bulbs that fail to produce successfully.
Refer to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map (see references) to determine your planting zone. Choose plants or bulbs that are labeled for your zone.
Read the plant description to determine the recommended planting time for your area. Many seed companies ship plants or bulbs at the appropriate planting time for your area, but if they do not, you need to plan the arrival of the plants to match your planting time.
Select plants or bulbs with "days to maturity" that are less than the number of frost free days in your area. This is particularly important when purchasing tender annuals for areas with short growing seasons. (See references for chart of frost-free days.)
Order plants online or by mailing the completed order form found in your catalog. Double-check all entries for accuracy. Indicate whether you are willing to accept substitutions for your selections. Check that you have included your mailing address and the appropriate payment for the order.
Check for the expected delivery date of your plants. You may be able to track the shipping via an online tracking service. If that is not an option, calculate the expected delivery date from the shipping information provided by the seed company.
Prepare the soil for your plants or bulbs before they arrive to avoid unnecessary stress to plants.
Plan to be home on the delivery date or to have someone accept the order for you. If no one is home, plants and bulbs may be sent back to the post office or delivery service office and delivered at a future time. Those conditions may not be suitable for plants.