All the delightful folks who send me catalogs will most likely not be too happy with me after they read this post but I can only talk about my experience.
In my experience, I have found that it is much better to buy plants locally than to order than from catalogs (with certain limited exceptions. If you need to order from a catalog, feel free to order from White Flower Farm or Logees–both in Connecticut, but that’s not why I recommend them. Those two companies have the art of shipping plants down to a science. The plants arrive with very few, if any damaged parts. because they are secured nicely in the box.)
And there, in my last statement, is the beginning of the problem with shipping plants. Perhaps I can recommend those two companies because they are only shipping plants literally down the road to me so of course the plants arrive in beautiful condition. I have had some nightmare issues with plants arriving in terrible condition because shippers failed to secure the plants properly in the box. When that happens, the plants shift, soil falls out, the plants dry out, pieces of the plant break off–you get the idea. By the time the plant arrives, it is 1/2 to 3/4s dead. Who wants to open a box to find that?
Then there are the shippers that ship “bare root perennials” but don’t exactly advertise that fact. I’m not sure about you, but it takes a better gardener than I am to get all the “bare root” perennials to take root and grow in my soil.
Then there are the shippers that ship perennials labeled “#1” or “#2.” When you open the box what you have are tiny pots–2″ across if you’re lucky–that you paid as much as you would have paid if you’d gone down to your local nursery for them–and you paid for shipping! And if you’re lucky, they’re properly hydrated and they don’t have mold on them after 5 days in a box!
Can you see why I might suggest that it’s better to try to find what you’d like locally?
Now, of course there are those times when what you might want isn’t available locally. And of course it’s always acceptable to buy bulbs mail order–in fact, it’s probably preferable in many instances because your selections will be much greater. But that’s an autumn or late summer issue, usually.
And roses are usually shipped “bare root” and that’s perfectly acceptable. Just be sure to soak the roots before planting to hydrate them. And also be aware that they’re likely to come generally well before you’re ready for them. I’ve had bare root roses arrive when I’ve still had snow on the ground so all planting was out of the question. I’ve also had them arrive in 90 degree early heat waves–again planting wasn’t really a great idea in that!
So if what you’re looking for isn’t available locally, you’ll have to order things through the mail. Just be sure that you read the catalog disclaimers so that you know what you’re getting. If you’re unfamiliar with the terms, type them into your search engine of choice.
Finally, as you can see by that tiny discussion with the roses, plants do tend to arrive at inconvenient times, to put it mildly. Even when you can sort of suggest, “Ship after May 15” or some such direction, when a box of living things arrives, it has to be dealt with immediately–not the next day or two days from now. It can wreak havoc if you have travel plans or even a busy work schedule.
So take all of this into account–and if you still want to order plants, do so after a little local research, and only after an understanding of the type of plants you’ll be receiving (bare root? small pot? what?). You’ll be glad you did.