Tips for buying plants online

Are you buying plants online? If so, remember that good mail order and o garden suppliers should be able to provide the following information:

Ordering and shipping dates and deadlines. Since plants and bulbs are live material, they are usually shipped in the spring or the fall when planting conditions are ideal.

An order form that’s easy to navigate: Be careful to fill in the correct quantities and sizes.

Common and botanical names: Without this information it’s difficult compare prices and shipping size with other suppliers. Some less than ideal companies promote ordinary everyday plants available everywhere with colorful names they’ve made up. Ever heard of a Blue Twinkle?

Hardiness zone and growing information: You need to know if a plant can handle your climate and its growing requirements — whether the plant is happier in sun or shade or needs special soil conditions — and how big it will get.

Contact information: Look for a phone number and address and a returns policy. If you have questions, the seller should be happy to answer them. If you call them and they say they can only take orders, hang up.

Shipping information: Upfront shipping quotes and shipping dates appropriate to your climate. If your plants don’t come within the time you specify, let the supplier know so that they can send out the plants before it’s too late.

Ordering from outside the country: The plants must be shipped with a phytosanitary certificate, which is mandated by government.

How to tell you’re getting quality

But when you buy plants online, how do you tell who’s legit and who’s trying to pawn off miserable scraps of greenery on unwary gardeners?

If the deal is too good to be true, remember the old saying: You get what you pay for. If you see strident headlines promoting sweepstakes, you’ve got to wonder what they’re really selling.