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Plants By Mail FAQ
On 22 Jun 1999 12:17:51 GMT, in rec.gardens "Joseph Robinson"
>The Plants By Mail FAQ
>maintained by Joe Robinson
>founded by Peter Leppik
>This document is intended to introduce readers to the world of buying plants by mail
>order; and also to serve as a central clearinghouse for information about contacting
>various mail order plant houses. Neither of us make claims about being more informed on
>this topic than your average Joe; Peter saw the need and compiled the original file
>material, and I'm willing to put forth the effort to continue compiling and maintaining
>Entries to the FAQ websitelist (http://pbmfaq.dvol.com) include a notation of time
>(season, if not month and year) when last change to a list entry was made. Comments and
>additions to the FAQ may be made directly directly to me at email@example.com . I'm
>not using Forms yet. I'm waiting until the number of folks who can access them
>outnumbers those who can not.
>Note: Sending email to the PBM-FAQ will NOT get you a free catalog. We don't do
>catalogs. Lately I've been getting a quite a bit of, "Please send me your Park Seed
>catalog" and the like. This is not what we're about. We're about ordering plants by
>mail, its trials, tribulations and successes.
>The version of this FAQ posted to USENET used to include the complete list of catalogs,
>with addresses and gardener comments. This is no longer done, because the list was
>outgrowing the rest of the FAQ. Instead, the catalog list can be accessed at
>http://pbmfaq.dvol.com . If you don't have WWW access, you can send E-mail to
>firstname.lastname@example.org, telling me which catalogs you want address information for, and
>I'll send you those particular entries.
>It seems that one of the most common article titles in rec.gardens is, "How can I reach
>XYZZY?" or, "The Plugh company sent me a catalog. Are they any good?" I hope to be able
>to answer some of these questions in a reasonably definitive manner (the first is easy,
>the second harder), and provide the neophyte with some introduction to buying plants by
>My experience in this area has been short, but intense. After finally moving from a
>small condo into a real house (with a YARD and a GARDEN even!) in 1993, one of my first
>projects was to begin widespread replanting of the yard (which was mostly boring grass,
>or very ugly hybrid poplars). To do that, I began ordering large numbers of bulbs and
>plants from a number of mail-order houses. Some were good, some were bad, and I learned
>a lot about what to look for and what to avoid.
>How To Tell a Good Company from a Bad One
>(or: Things To Look For Before Taking the Plunge)
>If you are like me, you probably have a dozen or two catalogs from various places, some
>fancy, others plain, and you're wondering who to order from and how to tell the
>difference between a place that really cares, and a place that is just trying to unload
>some poor, pathetic bits of green stuff on The Gullible Majority. In this section, I
>will outline what I think a good mail order company should do, and what you should
>consider before buying a plant sight-unseen. Keep in mind that this is aimed at the
>relative neophyte, who needs a little more service than the extremely experienced
>gardener....there are plenty of companies which provide good plants, but don't offer
>the level of service than many gardeners need.
>What a Good Mail-Order Company Will Do
> 1. Every perennial in the catalog should have a clearly indicated hardiness range.
>That is, for every perennial (anything you expect to last more than one year) should
>have indicated which USDA hardiness zones it will survive in. Simple adjectives like
>"hardy," or "tender," are NOT sufficient. Perhaps I am biased, being a Minnesota native
>currently living in Illinois, but I have seen too many catalogs which do not include
>this crucial information. Without knowing this, it is too easy to buy plants that won't
>survive in your climate. This also includes those of you who live in places like
>Southern California, where it never gets cold, since some plants require a period of
>cold temperatures every year in order to survive/bloom/etc.
> 2. Every plant should have its botanical (scientific) name listed. Of course, this
>doesn't count for things like roses or tomatoes, since everybody knows what they are.
>This may sound picky, but think about it: if you ever want to get information on this
>plant from some other source, and they use their own name, you might have a devil of a
>time figuring out how to get information. A plant's botanical name is unique. I have
>seen places that will take a standard variety of some plant, come up with a flashy
>(trademarked) name, and sell it as something special. Needless to say, this is
>2A. More about Trade Marks (It's Only Going to Get Tougher)
>This trend toward trademarked plant names is accelerating, and it can only cause
>problems for the buyer down the road.
> Species, variety and cultivar names can not be trade-marked--each is unique to a
>specific plant. Trademarked names are not so tightly tied up--the plant you might see
>listed as Flash (tm) in 1997 might not be the same cultivar listed as Flash (tm) in
>The following scenario is a bit more likely:
> You read about a terrific grassplant in GruberPlant, and so order three of
>Horsetail Wonder (tm) at a premium. Couple of catalogs later, another ornamental grass
>catches your eye, and so you order a couple Miscanthus 'Red Royal'. From the
>description, it sounds like it will be a nice accent to the Horsetail Wonder (tm). You
>sit back, visions of these striking grasses accenting your border garden dancing in
> Come March, the parcels arrive. You plant em out, and by September you've
>noticed they look an awful lot alike. By October you've figured out that you've
>ordered the same plant from two places. What happened? How can they do that?
> Easy. Although the plant patent has expired, giving all growers the ability to sell
>Miscanthus 'Red Royal', the renewable trademarked name for the plant has not. No one
>else but GruberPlant can sell it as Horsetail Wonder (tm). And GruberPlant intends to
>get its money's worth.
>Yay for the USDA
>Seed catalogs are supposed to list clearly the Registered name and the botanical name,
>including cultivar name if there is one. That's part of the Seed Act, enforced by the
>USDA. If you really read your catalogs, you can be fairly certain in your selection.
> The same thing is supposed to be true for plants. The Seed Act doesn't cover plants,
>though. In fact, the USDA has no jurisdiction over the sale of plants. The FTC does. And
>the FTC has a lot of other things they consider more important than regulating vague
>language in plant catalogs. (Thanks to the nameless colleague who walked me through this
>last bit. I haven't asked for permission to attribute, so they will remain nameless.)
> 3. Information on the habitat requirements should be easy to find. By this, I mean
>answers to questions like, how much sun does it need, how much water, and so forth.
>Nearly every catalog has this, but if you see one that doesn't, stay away.
> 4. A good company will be able to answer questions about their products. Really, this
>is basic. If you call them, and ask about something, they should be able to answer your
>question. If they can only take orders, this is a Bad Sign. (By the way, in many places,
>you can call your local County Extension office to get information about plants, too.)
> Finally, a word about guarantees:
> 5. Every mail order catalog that I've seen offers some sort of guarantee. This should
>NOT be a factor in deciding where to buy from. After all, what good does it do if they
>replace a plant that died because you can't grow oranges in Alaska? The replacement will
>just die, too, and you'll spend twice as much time on a plant that was Never Meant To
>Be. Some people have even noted an inverse relation between the quality of the guarantee
>and the quality of the plants: the louder the company proclaims its "FOOLPROOF 100%
>MONEY-BACK GUARANTEE," the worse the plants are when they arrive.
>What To Consider Before Taking the Plunge
>Okay, so you've got your heart set on the beautiful Creeping Green Stuff. Before
>plunking your money and time on it (usually more time than money), you should stop and
>ask yourself a few questions:
> 1. Will it grow in my area? If they don't make it CLEAR (i.e. by telling you the
>hardiness zone), then avoid that plant, or buy it from somebody who will tell you.
> 2. Do I have a place to put it? It is very easy to get spring fever when all the
>catalogs start arriving midwinter, and wind up buying enough plants to cover every
>square inch of your yard two or three times over. Make sure you have a specific place
>for each and every plant you order, and make sure you will have the time to plant it
>when it arrives. Keep in mind that you will probably have to plant them soon after they
>arrive, and you might not be able to control the exact day they arrive. Thus, ordering
>150 bushes for a new hedge from one place, all of which will arrive via UPS on the same
>day and need to be planted immediately, is probably not a good idea. Believe me. I've
>done it. Twice. And I'll probably do it again (some people never learn).
> 3. Will it really look the way I want it to? Keep in mind that the pictures in the
>catalogs are designed to sell plants, and the plants in your garden will generally not
>look quite as nice. I have seen a lot of comments from people in rec.gardens about the
>rose Blue Girl as a particular offender in this respect. Also keep in mind that
>illustrations (and photographs) can be very deceptive.
>What To Do When Your Order Arrives
>(or: OhMyGawd! There's No DIRT With These Plants!)
>The most important thing to do when your order arrives is DON'T PANIC!
>Good. Take a few deep breaths.
>The reason your roses/trees/whatever arrived without any dirt is not because the company
>sent you dead plants. Shipping woody plants without dirt ("bare-root") is standard.
>First, it does not harm the plants much, as long as the company has taken steps to
>ensure that the roots don't dry out. Usually, this involves dipping the roots in some
>sort of stuff that helps retain moisture. Second, shipping plants bare-root helps keep
>shipping costs down. Shipping with dirt could easily double or triple the weight of the
>plant when shipped, and make it that much more expensive to buy. Finally, shipping
>plants bare-root helps prevent the spread of pests that live in the soil (like the
>Japanese beetle). Needless to say, unless you're buying small seedlings, it would be
>expensive for a company to grow all their stock in greenhouses.
>There are a few places which ship plants in pots. Shipping a plant with the dirt will be
>less traumatic to the plants, and, as a rule, you can expect these plants to be
>healthier, but, because of shipping expenses, they will often also be much smaller than
>bare-root plants--and more expensive. Given the option, I will usually buy the plant
>shipped in a pot, since the quality is often much higher. In addition, there are some
>plants which have to be shipped in pots, simply because they're too fragile otherwise.
>Generally, you will get a little booklet with your order explaining how to plant your
>new plants. Usually, the first thing to do (with bare root plants) is to stick them in a
>bucket of water for some time. You should do this as soon as they arrive. Then, dig a
>hole according to the booklet instructions, and plant those buggers.
>It may take some time for your new plants to leaf out, especially if they're dormant
>when shipped. Again, don't panic. If you planted in the spring, don't call the company
>to complain that the plants are dead until midsummer. They'll just tell you to wait,
>because sometimes the plants take a while to adjust to their new surroundings.
>Which Catalog To Order From
>If you are buying roses, you should certainly order from a catalog which specializes in
>roses. There are quite a few of these catalogs, and you will generally get better
>selection, quality, and price than you would from buying from a catalog which doesn't
>specialize in roses.
>For some reason, this rule of thumb seems to be the other way around when buying bulbs.
>I have had the best experiences buying bulbs from White Flower Farms, which is generally
>an outstanding catalog, but they aren't even remotely limited to bulbs. My worst
>experiences, on the other hand, were with places that sell only, or mainly bulbs. Go
>Not everybody will agree with my judgments. After much consideration (and several long
>discussions on the order of "Company X isn't really THAT bad!"), I've decided that the
>main consideration has to be consistency. That means that I can count on large plants,
>of a uniformly high quality, every time I order. Note, too, that I haven't yet had
>anyone take issue with my list of "Good" companies, just the "Bad" ones. Having said
>that, here is my list of best and worst companies, based primarily on my personal
>Really Good Companies:
> White Flower Farms
> Nor'East Miniature Roses
> Heirloom Old Garden Roses
> Gardener's Supply Company
> Old House Gardens
> Parks Seeds
> Shepherd's Garden Seeds
> Stark Brothers
> W. Atlee Burpee Co.
> Van Engelen Bulbs
>Companies To Avoid:
> Spring Hill
> Michigan Bulb Co.
> Breck's Bulbs
>Companies That Own Other Companies and Don't Tell You, or: Who Owns What, a hardly
>comprehensive, yet accurate, collection of Business Relations.
>Ball Seed Co. owns W. Atlee Burpee Co.
>Foster Gallagher owns:
>Michigan Bulb Co.
>Spring Hill Nursery
>Burgess Seed & Plant Co.
>Interstate (Inter-State) Nurseries
>Farmers Seed & Nursery Co.
>Four Seasons Nursery
>House of Wesley
>Four Seasons Nursery and Kelly Nurseries are next-door neighbors according to their mailing
>Park Seed Co. owns Wayside Gardens
>Daffodil Mart is now owned by White Flower Farms, who also owns Shepherd's Seeds.
>I'm not sure which owns whom in the following relationships:
>SBE appears to be the parent firm --or at least the main supplier-- for Mother Earth Seeds, World
>Wide Exotic Seeds, Drysdale Seed Company, and Forever In Bloom.
>Seymour's Selected Seeds and Totally Tomatoes and R.H. Shumway's and Vermont Bean Seed Company
>Quality Dutch Bulbs and Netherland Bulb Company
>Jung,McLure and Zimmerman, and Roots and Rhizomes.
>Advance Seed Co. and Ferry-Morse Seed Co.
>Wildflower Farm and Prairie Nursery.
>John Scheepers is the "retail quantity" division of Van Engelen.
>Has Park Seeds bought Cook's Garden? (Question posed late Winter, 1997)
>Gurney's and Henry Field's:
>same prices for same items, phone numbers use the same area code and prefix, and the mailing labels,
>including customer numbers, are identical. Robin A. Niles (email@example.com) reports that this because
>at one time they were the same firm, and now share almost all of their suppliers, customer lists and
>pricing while maintaining different production managers and
>slightly different thoughts about the "best way" to grow and ship items.
>A View From the Other Side:
>There are times when a gardener inadvertently makes it difficult for the honest
>mailorder firm to fulfill an order. Below is an example provided by Ernest Koone, owner
>of Lazy K, and it's a goof every person who orders by mail should avoid--it's
>"I recently received a catalogue request (from my classified ad in Fine Gardening) as
>follows: "PLEASE SEND ME A PRICE LIST. SINCERELY, RAY". No return address. So, one of
>these days, you will probably receive an indignant missive from Ray to the effect that I
>neglected to respond to his request for a price list. You can't win 'em all!!"
>But Before We Go....
>I hope this FAQ has been useful. I also hope it has been accurate. If you find any
>mistakes, or have any comments, please send me E-mail. Any suggestions for improving
>future editions will be happily accepted, and possibly even acted upon.
>Please send all suggestions, comments, corrections, and so forth to The Plants By Mail
>For the full listing of catalogs, with comments, see the WWW version of this FAQ at
>http://pbmfaq.dvol.com . If you don't have WWW access, send E-mail to me
>(firstname.lastname@example.org) listing which companies you want more information on, and I'll
>send you what we've listed for them.
>If you wish to comment on your favorite (or least favorite) mail-order catalog:
>Any and all comments are welcome. Send them to The Plants By Mail FAQ. If there is some
>catalog not covered which you think should be, by all means, write. If you've got
>the mailing address or telephone number, include it with the rest of your comments. If
>you do send comments, PLEASE please respect our poor, overworked mailers. People have
>resent the entire FAQ just for a few lines of comments, and one person sent a bunch of
>UUencoded binary pictures! Needless to say, this doesn't help much, and it wastes disk
>space. That said....do send comments, because they do help. What you know will help
>I assume that, if you send comments, you don't mind if they find their way the website,
>in some form. Thus, if you DON'T want your name and email address in a future
>edition of the FAQ, be sure to say so.
>In order to see the full version, the PBM-FAQ and the accompanying catalog list, you
>need to go to the WWW version of this FAQ, at http://pbmfaq.dvol.com . If you don't have
>WWW access, send E-mail to me (email@example.com) listing which companies you want
>more information about, and I'll send you what we have listed.
>Disclaimer (short version):
>All opinions in this FAQ are the opinions of the FAQ authors unless otherwise noted.
>Emailed comments and opinions of mail-order firms, good and bad, are those of their
>submitting authors, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the FAQ authors.
>Regarding Comments of An Unpleasant Nature: Once in a while we get requests to remove
>remarks from the FAQ, usually from a mail order company representative who, for whatever
>reason, does not agree with comments on the FAQ about their firm.
>The PBM-FAQ posts public comments without editing, other than to remove material that is
>not a comment about a company. Such editing includes removing requests for additional
>information about a specific plant, etc.
>The PBM-FAQ website will not remove comments unless they are grossly outdated or unless
>the original writer has asked that they be removed. To do otherwise defeats the
>impartiality of the Plants-By-Mail FAQ.
>Mail-order firms are invited to respond to comments which they might believe unfairly
>represents them. These comments will be posted to the PBM-FAQ website under the same
>guidelines as outlined above.
>Frankly, the most effective comment a mail-order firm may post is, "We contacted Mr./Ms.
>Gardening Person, and took care of their problem."
>Please make sure you visit the disclaimer page for the FAQ catalog listings when you
>visit the PBM-FAQ web pages. The complete disclaimer's not included in this version of
>the FAQ to save space. *That* should give you a clue.....