Question from Lisa: I’m getting flooded with seed and gardening catalogs now that the holidays are over. I don’t even remember signing up for most of these. Although I must admit, each one seems enticing enough to buy from. How do I know if these unknown (to me) companies can be trusted, and what about some general tips when it comes to shopping from and ordering online or through the mail. Lisa R., Seattle, WA.
Reply from Joe: You ask a great question Lisa and one that I received a number of times lately. There is so much good information on this topic. I’ve written a couple articles on it and you can find those on my website. But here are the quick facts.
1. Ask gardeners you trust to find out what companies they like and have had success with. A good source is your county extension office. Ask to speak with a Master Gardener.
2. Call the company and see how you like their responses to your questions. Do they have knowledgeable staff on hand to answer your gardening and planting questions?
3. How long have they been in business? Just because they’re new, doesn’t make them bad. But the companies that have been around a long time must be doing something right.
4. Are you looking for something specific? Some companies specialize in only certain plants while others are more generalist. If you’re looking for only certified organic, or heirloom for example, those companies are out there. Be aware there are plenty of specialty companies.
5. Don’t over buy. This is a common mistake. It is easy to be sucked into the pretty pictures and before you know it, you’ve purchased way more than you’ll have time to plant or that you’ll have room to grow.
6. How much are shipping costs? Sometimes it can be more than the seeds. Companies can vary a great deal here. Know the whole cost, not just the price of the seeds or plants.
7. Make sure the seeds you are buying are fresh and packaged for that year. Deeply discounted seeds may be out of date. Although still viable in many cases, they do begin to decline in their rate of germination success as they get older and/or stored improperly. Remember, you get what you pay for.
8. Know approximately how many seeds are in a pack. Some packs have more seeds than you’ll need, while other will surprise you at the small amount provided. It pays to inquire to save the disappointment of finding out you didn’t get enough.
9. Know if what you are ordering will grow in your zone and conditions. It is so easy to assume you’ll get results like those in the picture. In reality, without just the right conditions, your results could vary greatly.
10. Don’t be afraid to try new things. You won’t blow your life’s savings on an order of seeds so if you’re feeling lucky, go for it. Experimenting is one of the best parts of gardening. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say.
For more details and tips along with the do’s and don’ts of shopping online and through the mail, check out these links: Seed Catalog Buying Dos and Don’ts and Seed Catalogs Offer the Perfect Winter Diversion.