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5 Tips for Buying Plants Online

5 Tips for Buying Plants Online

By Susan Martin for Proven Winners
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

For some people, the first excursion to their local garden center in spring is like a rite of passage that marks the beginning of a whole new year in the garden. It’s a time we mentally mark on the calendar as “me time” and maybe plan to share with a gardening girlfriend or two.

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Garden Crossings Retail Garden Center in Zeeland, Michigan.

This year, everything has changed, albeit temporarily. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all waiting safely at home until the storm passes. In some states, independent garden centers have remained open by offering modified shopping opportunities like curbside pickup and no-contact delivery. Those local retailers need your business if you are able to give it, even if just to call and purchase a gift card now for future use. Check their website or give them a call to ask about your options first before taking your business online.

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Barlow’s Flower Farm of New Jersey is offering safe contactless pickup and delivery as well as online shopping while their retail store remains closed due to health regulations from COVID-19.

If the local garden centers in your area are not allowed to open yet this year and you need to order plants online, there are five simple guidelines you can follow to make it a more positive experience. Let’s take a closer look.

1. Buy what works for you.

If you’re feeling uneasy about buying plants online, a simple solution is to buy what you know has worked for you before. If you can grow a stellar border of marigolds, then buy marigolds! If you’ve had tremendous luck with super vigorous Supertunia Vista® Bubblegum® petunias, then buy those online. If you stick to the basics, you can’t go wrong.

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Supertunia Vista® Bubblegum® petunias easily fill in borders and bloom reliably all season without deadheading.

If you usually pick out a matching set of hanging baskets at the garden center each spring, consider buying a pre-planted container garden or Flower Pillow® instead of individual plants you’ll have to mix and match yourself. These items can easily be transplanted into a hanging basket and will fill out quickly to give you a similar look as the baskets you would have bought locally.

Buying what you know works is a good guideline for perennials and shrubs, too. If sedums grow well for you and you could use a few more plants for your foundation bed, buy more sedums online. Since they all need similar amounts of sun and moisture, you can’t go wrong by choosing a new color or variegated form of sedum that catches your eye in an online store. 

2. Look for key features in online plant descriptions.

When you shop in a store, you probably read a plant’s label before you put it in your shopping cart. When you shop online, do the same by reading up on the plants before you add them to your virtual shopping cart. Look for the same key features you’d find on the label: sun/shade requirements, size, bloom time, water needs and zone (for perennials and shrubs).

An advantage of shopping online is that many online catalogs are searchable by key features. If you are looking specifically for annuals for shade, it should be easy to select these traits online and shop the results. Some sites offer extensive search options for very specific uses, for example, a zone 4 hardy shrub for sun that blooms pink in spring and is deer resistant.

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Read 243 reviews from people who have grown Supertunia Vista® Bubblegum® petunias to see if it might be a good fit for your garden, too.

3. Read the reviews.

Today, you can find reviews for nearly everything online—including plants—and they may help guide your purchasing decisions. Just keep in mind that reviews of live plants can be somewhat subjective—did they remember to water it? Was it hardy for their climate? Facebook groups like Proven Winners Gorgeous Gardens are also a good place to talk with others about their experience before you buy online.

4. Don’t feel pressured to buy immediately.

If you are shopping online for plants for the first time, or if you’re the kind of person who likes to weigh all your options, don’t feel like you must place an order immediately. Many online shopping sites will save your cart or wish list for you while you make your decision. Some will send you an email reminder after a few days if you’ve left something in your cart.

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A fun new feature on the Proven Winners website is the Idea Board. It functions similar to Pinterest in that you have the ability to create your own project boards and add plants to them as you go. Maybe you’d create an Idea Board for your new backyard cutting garden or one to keep track of what you already have in your landscape. Add plants to your Idea Boards as you’re researching them, and when you are ready to buy, simply head back to your board and move the plants you’ve settled on into your cart.

5. Remember the soil and plant food!

When buying flowers and plants online, remember to pick up some potting soil and plant food while you’re at it. Your new plants will be ready for a good home and a snack when they arrive. If you need help planting them, this handy auger might be of use to you, too. If your local nurseries are closed, it’s a comfort to know that there are online shopping options for these important items.

Stay up to date with Proven Winners on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Twitter.

Susan Martin is an avid zone 6 gardener, garden writer and speaker who enjoys spreading her passion for plants to her fellow gardeners across North America.

All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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