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Buying Garden Plants Online – a How-to Guide

March 30, 2020

Written by Dave G.

Wow have things changed, and in ways we never could have imagined. We don’t know when it is going to change back – or if it ever will be the same again. Preserving our health is paramount, but this makes a massive impact on our habits. We are no longer free to go out as we wish, yet while we are stuck at home, spring is arriving, and the seasons won’t wait. Traditional habits of visiting the Garden Center for new plants seem a distant memory, but ‘spring fever’ still pushes us to plant and nurture new green life. Ironically, we have more time for our gardens, and the pleasure they give, than we probably ever had before. What to do?

Just as we now keep contact with our families and friends through the internet, we can do the same for our gardens. Shopping for plants is the answer to our urge to plant, but doing it is not quite the same as buying in person, so let’s consider the ins and outs of what for many people might be a new experience – buying your garden plants online.

Advantages of Buying Plants Online

Don’t think of shopping for your garden online as a second choice to the Garden Center – it isn’t. There are lots of real advantages, including some that may not be so obvious:

You Can Plan Ahead

Get all your plant shopping done while the garden is still sleeping. Often you can buy before the plants are available, with a guarantee of shipping at a later date. You won’t have to worry the best will be sold out by the time you get to the nursery, and you won’t have to take something else, because what you wanted wasn’t available.

You Can Save Time

That way you can spend your time preparing your beds and planting spots, instead of sitting on the freeway trying to entertain the kids, only to discover that the Garden Center has nothing much in yet, except last year’s left-over stock. Don’t waste that time – shop in the evening or during a late snowstorm instead, in the comfort of home.

You can Know the Plant before you Plant It

How often have you gone to a Garden Center and come home with something cute, but with no idea of what it needs, or how big it will get? All those out-of-place plants you see in gardens are the result of exactly that. When you shop for your garden online you have time to consider, read about the plant, maybe step into the garden to visualize it in place. All-in-all you can check that you really feel comfortable that you want this plant – and that it’s right for your garden. No pressure to get out of there with ‘something that will do’. The result? A better, more attractive and more successful garden.

Choosing Where to Shop

There are lots of online nurseries, so how to choose? Which one are you going to trust as a surrogate for your local Garden Center?

Look for Expertise

Most Garden Centers have staff who know their plants, and who act as ‘live guides’ in helping us choose the plants that will work best for us. A lot of online sellers simply list plants, with just the most basic descriptions – which don’t tell us much at all about a new plant that has caught our eye. The best online sites will give you lots of useful information to guide your choice, and to help you grow your new plants successfully.

Look for Blogs

Still thinking of information, does the site you are using have a regular blog, with lots of stored pieces? Great if it does, because these can not only guide you in making your garden better, from planning, to soil improvement and explanations if how to deal with shade. If you are trying to choose, for example, a spruce tree, try searching the site for some blogs describing and comparing the different kinds. If you aren’t getting this sort of pro guidance, maybe the site is more interesting in selling than in helping.

Look for Choices

While more unusual plants might only come in one size, more widely-used plants, such as hedging plants, should be available in several sizes, to suit your needs and your pocketbook. For a specimen you might choose a larger plant, but for hedging that can be expensive. Are there smaller plants available? They often establish quickly and grow fast, and catch up with the bigger plants in a couple of years.

Look for Sections

Some basic online nurseries just have an ‘A to Z’ list of plants. That can be OK if you know exactly what you are looking for, but mostly we want a plant for a special purpose – Foundation Plants, Hedges, Flowering Shrubs, or Ground Covers perhaps. The best sites will guide you straight to a section of their recommendations for the basic uses and functions of their plants.

How to Shop for Plants

Now you have found a helpful site, what next?

Look at Your Garden

Step outside, or look through a window, and think about what your garden needs. Don’t just start shopping randomly. If you are planning a new garden, ask yourself, ‘What are the basics I need?’ Probably it is foundation plants around your home, hedges, or a shade tree. If your have a more-established garden, think back to last year – where there times when the garden was dull and boring? What months was that? Now you can target plants that bloom or are colorful during that season. It’s easy to have a garden that looks good in spring – harder (but very do-able) to have one in bloom from March to October.

Check your Soil

If you don’t already know the acid/alkaline balance of your soil, the pH value, find it out with a simple test kit. If you can’t get one, look around the neighborhood for the best garden, and ask them – they probably know. Or, see what is growing well in your neighbor’s gardens. If they have azaleas, or you have seen blue hydrangeas, the chances are that like them you have acid soil. Knowing this will help you decide which plants will thrive, and which ones won’t.

How Big is 6 Feet?

Stand in your garden and imagine a plant as big as you (OK, maybe you aren’t 6 feet, but still. . .). How much room do you take up? What if you were lying down? Now you have a better idea of how big those plants are going to be when they mature. Buying online you won’t be fooled by their size into thinking that is as big as they get. Plants, like kids, grow, so check the final size, and get what work in your space.

Treat Yourself

You should choose your plants with your head, so they will work in your garden, but don’t ignore your heart. If, when shopping, you see something that really catches your fancy, then go for it. Consider it an experiment – you would be amazed at what people get to grow in unlikely places!