The Plants By Mail FAQ
maintained by Joe Robinson since 1995
founded by Peter Leppik
After almost seven years, it is time to pass the Website/USENET FAQ to the next
keeper of the flame. Write to Faqsite maintainer, Terry Lea, at
email@example.com from now onward, as she is the keeper of the FAQ.
This document is intended to introduce readers to the world of buying plants by
mail order; and also to serve as a central clearinghouse for information about
contacting various mail order plant houses. I don't make claims about being more
informed on this topic than your average Joe; Peter saw the need and compiled the
original file material, and I'm willing to put forth the effort to continue
and maintaining this.
Entries to the FAQ websitelist (http://plantsbymail.net ) include a notation of
time (season, if not month and year) when last change to a list entry was made.
Comments and additions to the FAQ may be made directly directly to Terry at
Note: Sending email to the PBM-FAQ will NOT get you a free catalog. I don't do
catalogs. Lately I've been getting a quite a bit of, "Please send me your Park
catalog" and the like. This is not what the PBM-FAQ's about. It's about ordering
plants by mail, its trials, tribulations and successes.
The version of this FAQ posted to USENET used to include the complete list of
with addresses and gardener comments. This is no longer done: the catalog
outgrew the USENET FAQ. Instead, the catalog lists can be accessed at
http://plantsbymail.net/ . If you don't have WWW access, you can send E-mail to
firstname.lastname@example.org, telling Terry which catalogs you want address information
perhaps she'll send you those particular entries. At last count, over 800
listed on the site.
It seems that one of the most common article titles in rec.gardens is, "How can
XYZZY?" or, "The Plugh company sent me a catalog. Are they any good?" I hope to
to answer some of these questions in a reasonably definitive manner (the first
the second harder), and provide the neophyte with some introduction to buying
My experience in this area has been short, but intense. After finally moving
small condo into a real house (with a YARD and a GARDEN even!) in 1993, one of
projects was to begin widespread replanting of the yard (which was mostly boring
or very ugly hybrid poplars). To do that, I began ordering large numbers of
plants from a number of mail-order houses. Some were good, some were bad, and I
a lot about what to look for and what to avoid.
How To Tell a Good Company from a Bad One
(or: Things To Look For Before Taking the Plunge)
If you are like me, you probably have a dozen or two catalogs from various
fancy, others plain, and you're wondering who to order from and how to tell the
difference between a place that really cares, and a place that is just trying to
some poor, pathetic bits of green stuff on The Gullible Majority. In this
will outline what I think a good mail order company should do, and what you
consider before buying a plant sight-unseen. Keep in mind that this is aimed at
relative neophyte, who needs a little more service than the extremely experienced
gardener....there are plenty of companies which provide good plants, but don't
the level of service than many gardeners need.
What a Good Mail-Order Company Will Do
1. Every perennial in the catalog should have a clearly indicated hardiness
That is, for every perennial (anything you expect to last more than one year)
have indicated which USDA hardiness zones it will survive in. Simple adjectives
"hardy," or "tender," are NOT sufficient. Perhaps I am biased, being a Minnesota
currently living in Illinois, but I have seen too many catalogs which do not
this crucial information. Without knowing this, it is too easy to buy plants
survive in your climate. This also includes those of you who live in places like
Southern California, where it never gets cold, since some plants require a
cold temperatures every year in order to survive/bloom/etc.
2. Every plant should have its botanical (scientific) name listed. Of course,
doesn't count for things like roses or tomatoes, since everybody knows what they
This may sound picky, but think about it: if you ever want to get information on
plant from some other source, and they use their own name, you might have a
devil of a
time figuring out how to get information. A plant's botanical name is unique. I
seen places that will take a standard variety of some plant, come up with a
(trademarked) name, and sell it as something special. Needless to say, this is
2A. More about Trade Marks (It's Only Going to Get Tougher)
This trend toward trademarked plant names is accelerating, and it can only cause
problems for the buyer down the road.
Species, variety and cultivar names can not be trade-marked--each is unique
specific plant. Trademarked names are not so tightly tied up--the plant you
listed as Flash (tm) in 1997 might not be the same cultivar listed as Flash (tm)
The following scenario is a bit more likely:
You read about a terrific grassplant in GruberPlant, and so order three of
Horsetail Wonder (tm) at a premium. Couple of catalogs later, another ornamental
catches your eye, and so you order a couple Miscanthus 'Red Royal'. From the
description, it sounds like it will be a nice accent to the Horsetail Wonder
sit back, visions of these striking grasses accenting your border garden dancing
Come March, the parcels arrive. You plant em out, and by September you've
noticed they look an awful lot alike. By October you've figured out that you've
ordered the same plant from two places. What happened? How can they do that?
Easy. Although the plant patent has expired, giving all growers the ability
Miscanthus 'Red Royal', the renewable trademarked name for the plant has not. No
else but GruberPlant can sell it as Horsetail Wonder (tm). And GruberPlant
get its money's worth.
Yay for the USDA
Seed catalogs are supposed to list clearly the Registered name and the botanical
including cultivar name if there is one. That's part of the Seed Act, enforced
USDA. If you really read your catalogs, you can be fairly certain in your
The same thing is supposed to be true for plants. The Seed Act doesn't cover
though. The USDA's jurisdiction over the sale of plants mixes in with the FTC's,
maze of agencies including the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards
Administration (GIPSA)/Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS), and Agricultural
Service (AMS). And the FTC has a lot of other things they consider more
regulating vague language in plant catalogs. (Thanks to the nameless colleague
me through this last bit. I haven't asked for permission to attribute, so they
Recently, a Texas-based plant by mail firm wrote to point out that they receive
inspections by the Texas Department of Agriculture in order to receive what they
a "fire ant stamp." It's an inspection stamp, issued by the USDA, and when you
stamped imprint on a box, it means the USDA has determined the nursery's
quarantined area free
from fire ants. (In another part of the country, it means free from some other
pest.) So, as implied by the stamp, the USDA does have jursidiction in the
sale and transport of plant material....but just try to figure out which branch
contact over the issue of Horsetail Wonder (tm).....
When I *do*
figure out who to call on the issue of Horsetail Wonder (tm), I'll
3. Information on the habitat requirements should be easy to find. By this, I
answers to questions like, how much sun does it need, how much water, and so
Nearly every catalog has this, but if you see one that doesn't, stay away. On
list of at least one frequent FAQ visitor: tightening up the distinction between
being self-pollinating or merely self-fertile--bees still required.
4. A good company will be able to answer questions about their products.
is basic. If you call them, and ask about something, they should be able to
question. If they can only take orders, this is a Bad Sign. (By the way, in many
you can call your local County Extension office to get information about plants,
Finally, a word about guarantees:
5. Every mail order catalog that I've seen offers some sort of guarantee.
NOT be a factor in deciding where to buy from. After all, what good does it do
replace a plant that died because you can't grow oranges in Alaska? The
just die, too, and you'll spend twice as much time on a plant that was Never
Be. Some people have even noted an inverse relation between the quality of the
and the quality of the plants: the louder the company proclaims its "FOOLPROOF
MONEY-BACK GUARANTEE," the worse the plants are when they arrive.
What To Consider Before Taking the Plunge
Okay, so you've got your heart set on the beautiful Creeping Green Stuff. Before
plunking your money and time on it (usually more time than money), you should
ask yourself a few questions:
1. Will it grow in my area? If they don't make it CLEAR (i.e. by telling you
hardiness zone), then avoid that plant, or buy it from somebody who will tell
2. Do I have a place to put it? It is very easy to get spring fever when all
catalogs start arriving midwinter, and wind up buying enough plants to cover
square inch of your yard two or three times over. Make sure you have a specific
for each and every plant you order, and make sure you will have the time to
when it arrives. Keep in mind that you will probably have to plant them soon
arrive, and you might not be able to control the exact day they arrive. Thus,
150 bushes for a new hedge from one place, all of which will arrive via UPS on
day and need to be planted immediately, is probably not a good idea. Believe me.
done it. Twice. And I'll probably do it again (some people never learn).
3. Will it really look the way I want it to? Keep in mind that the pictures
catalogs are designed to sell plants, and the plants in your garden will
look quite as nice. I have seen a lot of comments from people in rec.gardens
rose Blue Girl as a particular offender in this respect. Also keep in mind that
illustrations (and photographs) can be very deceptive.
What To Do When Your Order Arrives
(or: OhMyGawd! There's No DIRT With These Plants!)
The most important thing to do when your order arrives is DON'T PANIC!
Good. Take a few deep breaths.
The reason your roses/trees/whatever arrived without any dirt is not because the
sent you dead plants. Shipping woody plants without dirt ("bare-root") is
First, it does not harm the plants much, as long as the company has taken steps
ensure that the roots don't dry out. Usually, this involves dipping the roots in
sort of stuff that helps retain moisture. Second, shipping plants bare-root
shipping costs down. Shipping with dirt could easily double or triple the weight
plant when shipped, and make it that much more expensive to buy. Finally,
plants bare-root helps prevent the spread of pests that live in the soil (like
Japanese beetle). Needless to say, unless you're buying small seedlings, it
expensive for a company to grow all their stock in greenhouses.
There are a few places which ship plants in pots. Shipping a plant with the dirt
less traumatic to the plants, and, as a rule, you can expect these plants to be
healthier, but, because of shipping expenses, they will often also be much
bare-root plants--and more expensive. Given the option, I will usually buy the
shipped in a pot, since the quality is often much higher. In addition, there are
plants which have to be shipped in pots, simply because they're too fragile
Generally, you will get a little booklet with your order explaining how to plant
new plants. Usually, the first thing to do (with bare root plants) is to stick
them in a
bucket of water for some time. You should do this as soon as they arrive. Then,
hole according to the booklet instructions, and plant those buggers.
It may take some time for your new plants to leaf out, especially if they're
when shipped. Again, don't panic. If you planted in the spring, don't call the
to complain that the plants are dead until midsummer. They'll just tell you to
because sometimes the plants take a while to adjust to their new surroundings.
Which Catalog To Order From
If you are buying roses, you should certainly order from a catalog which
roses. There are quite a few of these catalogs, and you will generally get better
selection, quality, and price than you would from buying from a catalog which
specialize in roses.
For some reason, this rule of thumb seems to be the other way around when buying
I have had the best experiences buying bulbs from White Flower Farms, which is
an outstanding catalog, but they aren't even remotely limited to bulbs. My worst
experiences, on the other hand, were with places that sell only, or mainly
Not everybody will agree with my judgments. After much consideration (and
discussions on the order of "Company X isn't really THAT bad!"), I've decided
main consideration has to be consistency. That means that I can count on large
of a uniformly high quality, every time I order. Note, too, that I haven't yet
anyone take issue with my list of "Good" companies, just the "Bad" ones. Having
that, here is my list of best and worst companies, based primarily on my personal
Really Good Companies:
White Flower Farms
Nor'East Miniature Roses
Heirloom Old Garden Roses
Gardener's Supply Company
Old House Gardens
Shepherd's Garden Seeds
W. Atlee Burpee Co.
Van Engelen Bulbs
Companies To Avoid:
Michigan Bulb Co.
Companies That Own Other Companies and Don't Tell You, or: Who Owns What, a
comprehensive, yet accurate, collection of Business Relations.
Ball Seed Co. owns W. Atlee Burpee Co, who recently acquired GardenEscape's
Foster Gallagher owns:
Michigan Bulb Co.
New Holland Bulb
Spring Hill Nursery
Vermont Wildflower Farm
Not sure about this: The Garden Store
Royal Dutch Gardens
Burgess Seed & Plant Co.
Interstate (Inter-State) Nurseries
Farmers Seed & Nursery Co.
Four Seasons Nursery
House of Wesley
Richard Owen Nurseries, Inc.
Owen Nursery and Florist
DirectGardening is a division of House of Wesley
Park Seed Co. owns Wayside Gardens
Daffodil Mart is now owned by White Flower Farms, who also owns Shepherd's Seeds.
Garden City Seeds, Irish Eyes with a Hint of Garlic and Greg Anthonys are linked
somehow, and one of
them has absorbed Ronningers Seed and Potato.
Ronninger was last reported developing a separate Heirloom seed company,
Ronniger's Organic Farm.
I'm not sure which owns whom in the following relationships:>
SBE (Southern Business Express) appears to be the parent firm --or at least the
main supplier-- for
Mother Earth Seeds, seedman.com, World Wide Exotic Seeds, Drysdale Seed Company,
The GreenWeb, and
Forever In Bloom
Seymour's Selected Seeds and Totally Tomatoes and R.H. Shumway's and Vermont
Bean Seed Company
Quality Dutch Bulbs and Netherland Bulb Company
Jung, McLure and Zimmerman, Roots and Rhizomes and Totally Tomatoes. It has been
reported that Jung
bought TT in 2000.
Advance Seed Co. and Ferry-Morse Seed Co.
Arkansas Berry and Plant Farm and Pense nurseries.
Wildflower Farm and Prairie Nursery.
John Scheepers is the "retail quantity" division of Van Engelen and an affiliate
Park Seeds and Cook's Garden.
Gurney's and Henry Field's: same prices for same items, phone numbers use the
same area code
and prefix, and the mailing labels, including customer numbers, are identical.
Robin A. Niles
( email@example.com) reports that this because at one time they were the same firm,
and now share
almost all of their suppliers, customer lists and pricing while maintaining
production managers and slightly different thoughts about the "best way" to grow
and ship items.
The following labors are the result of the efforts of Claude Sweet
Aaron's Bulb Farm also does business as:
Aaron's Amaryllis & Canna Bulb Farm Nursery
Arron's Flower, Tree, and Shrub Nursery
Arron's Nursery with other listings
Aaron's Bamboo Nursery
Aaron's Daffodil Nursery
Aaron's Leucojum, Tuberose, and Eucomis Nursery
Aaron's Allium Nursery
Aaron's Clivia Nursery
Aaron's Agapanthus Nursery
Aaron's Elephant Ear Nursery
Aaron's Ariod Nursery
Aaron's Iris Nursery
Aaron's Ginger Lily Nursery
Aaron's Hymenocallis Nursery
Aaron's Crinum Lily Nursery
Aaron's Banana Tree Nursery
Aaron's Perennial Nursery
Arron's Fruit Nursery
Apple Tree Nursery
Fig Tree Nursery
Grape Vine Nursery
Pecan Tree Nursery
Peach Tree Nursery
Persimmon Tree Nursery
Plum Tree Nursery
Citrus Tree Nursery
Pear Tree Nursery
The Nursery at TyTy also does business as:
Blackberry Plant Nursery
African Amaryllis Bulb Nursery
Apple Tree Nursery
Bunch and Seedless Grape Vine Nursery
Pecan Tree Nursery
A View From the Other Side:
Reputable mailorder plant firms will always try to create happy customers--and
way they'll ever know (short of reading their firm's customer-submitted
on the FAQ) is when their customers <I>contact</I> them. From Renee Beaulieu, who
handles public relations for White Flower Farm: "We do try to be responsive to
complaints about White Flower Farm and also about our sister companies, the
and Shepherd's Garden Seeds. I was sorry to see a customer complaining about
Mart, but he never called us to make it right! I'm sure that happens a lot, but
people would take the time to call."
There are times when a gardener inadvertently makes it difficult for the honest
mailorder firm to fulfill an order. Below is an example provided by Ernest
of Lazy K, and it's a goof every person who orders by mail should avoid--it's
"I recently received a catalogue request (from my classified ad in Fine
follows: "PLEASE SEND ME A PRICE LIST. SINCERELY, RAY". No return address. So,
these days, you will probably receive an indignant missive from Ray to the
effect that I
neglected to respond to his request for a price list. You can't win 'em all!!"
But Before We Go....
I hope this FAQ has been useful. I also hope it has been accurate. If you find
mistakes, or have any comments, please send me E-mail. Any suggestions for
future editions will be happily accepted, and possibly even acted upon.
Please send all suggestions, comments, corrections, and so forth to The Plants
For the full listing of catalogs, with comments, see the WWW version of this FAQ
http://plantsbymail.net . If you don't have WWW access, send E-mail to me
( firstname.lastname@example.org) listing which companies you want more information on,
send you what we've listed for them.
If you wish to comment on your favorite (or least favorite) mail-order catalog:
Any and all comments are welcome. Send them to The Plants By Mail FAQ. If there
catalog not covered which you think should be, by all means, write. If you've got
the mailing address or telephone number, include it with the rest of your
you do send comments, PLEASE please respect our poor, overworked mailers. People
resent the entire FAQ just for a few lines of comments, and one person sent a
UUencoded binary pictures! Needless to say, this doesn't help much, and it
space. That said....do send comments, because they do help. What you know will
I assume that, if you send comments, you don't mind if they find their way the
in some form. Thus, if you DON'T want your name and email address in a future
edition of the FAQ, be sure to say so.
In order to see the full version, the PBM-FAQ and the accompanying catalog list,
need to go to the WWW version of this FAQ, at http://plantsbymail.net . If you
WWW access, send E-mail to ( email@example.com) listing which companies you
more information about, and I'll send you what we have listed.
Disclaimer (short version):
All opinions in this FAQ are the opinions of the FAQ authors unless otherwise
Emailed comments and opinions of mail-order firms, good and bad, are those of
submitting authors, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the FAQ
Regarding Comments of An Unpleasant Nature: Once in a while we get requests to
remarks from the FAQ, usually from a mail order company representative who, for
reason, does not agree with comments on the FAQ about their firm.
The PBM-FAQ posts public comments without editing, other than to remove material
not a comment about a company. Such editing includes removing requests for
information about a specific plant, etc.
The PBM-FAQ website will not remove comments unless they are grossly outdated or
the original writer has asked that they be removed. To do otherwise defeats the
impartiality of the Plants-By-Mail FAQ.
Mail-order firms are invited to respond to comments which they might believe
represents them. These comments will be posted to the PBM-FAQ website under the
guidelines as outlined above.
Frankly, the most effective comment a mail-order firm may post is, "We contacted
Gardening Person, and took care of their problem."
Please make sure you visit the disclaimer page for the FAQ catalog listings when
visit the PBM-FAQ web pages. The complete disclaimer's not included in this
the FAQ to save space. *That*
should give you a clue.....
History (includes web site updates and faq-tweaks):
Updated: January 20, 27, 2002. Changes to 65 pages, 5 additions.
Updated: November 22, 23, 30, 2001. Changes to 79 pages, 2 additions.
Updated: September 3, 4, 9, 11, 16, 17, 20, 2001. Changes to 87 pages, 13
Updated: September 3, 2001. The Rose FAQ is loaded onto the PBM-FAQ site
Updated: August 11, 19, 22, 23, 31, 2001. Changes and updates to 118 pages,
Updated: July 4, 6, 8, 16, 21, 28, 2001. Changes and updates to 57 pages, 6
Updated: June 5, 16, 20, 21, 2001. Changes and updates to 43 pages, 5
FAQ assumes Karen Baldwin's live roses mail order FAQ, May 5, 2001.
Updated: May 3, 4, 6, 16, 18, 21, 29, 30, 2001. Changes and updates to 156
pages, 10 additions.
Updated: April 1, 3, 13, 15, 23, 29, 30, 2001. Changes and updates to 112
pages, 8 additions.
Updated: March 11, 13, 16, 19, 23, 30, 2001. Changes and updates to 101
pages, 6 additions.
Updated: February 3,4, 11, 25, 28, 2001. Changes and updates to 97 pages, 13
Updated: January 27, 20, 19, 2001. Changes and updates to 187 pages, 13
Updated: January 3, 8, 18, 2001. Changes and updates to 197 pages, 12
Updated: December, 2000. Changes and updates to 295 pages, 16 additions.
Updated: 11/23/00. Running 5 months behind in commentpostings, striving to be
current by winter
Updated: 6/30, 6/13, 6/8/00. Changes and updates to 81 pages, 8 additions.
Updated: 5/27, 5/26, 5/23, 5/10/00. Changes and updates to 56 pages, 9
Updated: 4/30, 4/26, 4/25/, 4/23/00. Changes and updates to 106 pages, 15
Updated: 3/20, 3/26/00. Changes and updates to 76 pages, 6 additions
Updated: 1/16, 1/18/00 Changes and updates to 40 pages, 9 additions
Updated: 12/30, 12/31/99. Changes and updates to 78 pages, 11 additions
Updated: 9/5, 9/12, 9/23, 9/28/99 includes changes to 76 pages and 10
Updated: 8/4, 8/22/99 includes changes to 53 pages and 2 additions
Updated: 7/4, 7/16, 7/29/99 includes changes to 47 pages and 5 additions
Updated: 6/5,6/30/99 includes changes to 62 pages and 3 additions;
association with Amazon.com
(books and videos) begins
Updated: 3/4, 3/9/99 includes changes to 38 pages and 2 additions
Updated: 2/13/99 includes changes to 19 pages and 1 addition
Updated: 1/14, 1/19, 1/21/99, 1/31/99 includes changes to 38 pages and 7
Updated: 12/16/98, 12/31/98--includes changes to 57 pages and 11 additions
Updated: 11/7, 11/15, 11/23/98--includes 7 additions and changes to 72 pages
Updated: 10/16, 10/28, 10/31/98--includes 14 additions and changes to 90 pages
Updated: 9/13/98--includes changes to 51 pages
Updated: 8/20/98--includes changes to 72 pages
Updated: 6/30/98--includes changes to 40 pages
Updated: 6/14/98--includes changes to 45 pages
Updated: 4/3/98, 4/21/98--includes changes to 63 pages through Winter 1998.
Updated: 6/26/97 Faq site moves to new host and spends 2 weeks offline.
Updated: 3/29/97 (12 catalog pages updated or added. FAQ moves to new host)
Updated: 1/3/97-2/23/97 (30 catalog pages updated or added. Update dates now
instead of replaced on each page.)
Updated: 11/12/96-12/30/96 (96 catalog pages updated or added.)
Updated: 8/25/96 - 9/30/96 (153 entries added to 75 catalog pages.)
Updated: 8/16/96 - 8/24/96 (57 catalog pages updated or added.)
Updated: 8/15/96 (FAQ moves to new host)
Updated: 7/5/96 (Leppik announces his main web site is closing)
Updated: 5/29/96 (49 catalog pages updated or added.)
Updated: 11/18/95 (81 catalog pages updated or added.) Robinson takes on the
Originally Created: 3/17/94 (late at night)