For people new to plant buying, making a purchase from an online retailer can feel like a gamble. Most sites show a beautiful picture of a mature plant and give a decent description of what conditions the plant will grow in, but most don’t do a very good job at telling you exactly what you are getting for your money.
You might see a picture of large apple tree overflowing with juicy, red apples. Its safe to assume that for $24.99 they are not sending you that tree…but what size plant can you expect?
What about small plants? How will they be packaged? What if they are bare root? What keeps them from being crushed or broken? How do they ship soil?
Many people are scared to buy a plant without looking at it for fear of what they might receive.
I’ve placed a small order from Michigan Bulb (a popular online retailer) and took some pictures to give you an idea of what to expect.
I placed my order on February 18th. My order was shipped on March 23rd. It arrived via UPS in a box like this:
It was like Christmas! I couldn’t wait to open them and see what was inside! When I unpacked the box, I found my small plants safely packaged like this:
Each plant was individually boxed and there were plastic air pouches inside the large box for extra padding as well.
These plants were shipped in soil. The soil was wrapped in a thick plastic shrink wrap. When I cut the shrink wrap off, the soil was moist. The plants arrived in very good condition…except for one problem. They were no longer dormant.
The label on the box said that the plants were shipped from a location in Ohio. I am also in Ohio. The temperatures were still very cold during the day and well below freezing at night. These plants must have been in a greenhouse.
Getting plants that have already emerged from dormancy is a common problem with springtime plant orders.
Although these plants are ready for springtime planting, the weather outside was not. The plants in my landscape were still very much asleep. There was not an emerging bud to be found. If I were to plant my new arrivals outside, the frost and sub-freezing temperatures would surely do damage.
I potted my plants in small containers and put them near a window.
Once the weather grew a bit milder, I began to harden them off. On warmer days, I put the plants outside for a few hours at a time. I gradually increased the time until they were able to stay outside safely all night. Then they were ready to be planted in my landscape.
Notice how I put all my small pots inside a plastic bin? This kept the water from running all over my table when I watered them and made it really easy to bring them outside and inside as needed.
The plants were about the size I expected for the price I paid. The largest plant was a red french hybrid lilac. I paid just under $4.00 for it and it was about 8 and 1/2 inches tall.
A couple of the things I ordered were shipped bare root. These came in a bag and looked like small root clippings.
There was a pamphlet in my box that gave me general planting instructions for my plants. The pamphlet said that bare root plants such as the red phlox shown above can be stored in the refrigerator until planting conditions were ideal. I opted to plant mine right away with the others.
Overall, my order was exactly how I expected it be. The prices were (of course) not as low as I would expect from a wholesale supplier. This was a retail order and my order was pretty small. Everything arrived in a timely manner, was packaged well and each plant was clearly labeled.
I believe this to be an accurate description of the typical online plant buying experience. Of course there are a few careless sellers out there and sometimes things go wrong, but this should give you a general idea of what to expect.
Please feel free to post your buying experiences in the comment section below.