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Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Yard & Garden Planning

Garden Shopping by Mail and Web (page 2 of 3)

by National Gardening Association Editors

Catalog Savvy

Nothing beats experience, so order from a number of companies and compare their performance or ask other gardeners about their experiences. For a list of mail-order companies, the Mail Order Gardening Association, Box 2129, Columbia, MD 21045, publishes a Garden Catalog Guide ($2) with contact information for more than 120 of its members.

There are also Web sites dedicated to garden catalog listings. Cyndi's Catalog of Catalogs lists more than 1,700 garden catalogs. The Plants by Mail FAQ site offers contact information for more than 500 companies and includes comments from fellow gardeners about their experiences.

Before you leap into the pages of a glossy catalog or jump on a Web site, consider your garden's growing conditions, what types of plants will thrive in your area, and how much space you have. No matter how tempting a photograph looks or description sounds, trying to grow a plant outside its USDA

Hardiness range or in the wrong location (full sun instead of shade) is a formula for failure.

After carefully reviewing your needs, do some comparison shopping. Check product availability, costs of similar plants, refund and return policies, and shipping fees. Here are additional tips for reading and ordering from a garden catalog or Web site.

* Check plant descriptions. They should be honest (no plant is perfect in every way) and easy to understand. Don't rely too heavily on photographs to indicate the actual color of a flower. Plant colors vary by planting conditions and individual varieties, and look different on a computer monitor. The plant hardiness range (usually listed as USDA Hardiness Zones 1 to 11), botanical name (so you get the exact plant you want), and basic growing requirements (sun, water) should be listed.

* Check how plants were grown. Were the plants nursery grown or collected from the wild? It's best to purchase nursery-grown plants to avoid depleting wild stocks of native plants.

* Contact numbers. Telephone numbers and e-mail addresses for customer service should be clearly visible. Company representatives should be attentive to your questions.

* Guarantee policies. The refund and return policies should be clear and obvious. Check for cut-off dates by which you have to request a refund or replacement.

* Ordering. Order early to avoid items being sold out, especially if they're new or unusual. Specify the size of plants you want. Smaller plants are less expensive but may take longer to fill in the garden. Indicate whether or not you want the company to substitute out-of-stock plants. Many companies will automatically substitute a similar plant if the one you ordered is sold out. Specify special delivery dates. Keep records of your purchases, and double-check them when your order arrives.

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