When the winter temperatures start to lift, it’s time to start planting your spring garden. Whether you dream of a tropical oasis of color, crave a romantic flower patch, or you’re into heirloom perennials, you’ll find no shortage of plant and seed choices.
While you can find the most common ones in brick-and-mortar stores, you’ll discover an array of lesser-known varieties online, not to mention tons of educational resources. But are internet plant orders as cut-and-dried as in-store?
Vegetable gardeners who are concerned about GMOs in their homegrown food supply should look for seed and plant companies that have taken the Safe Seed Pledge. This pledge from gardening and seed suppliers ensures customers that the business does not sell, buy, or trade genetically engineered seeds. This information should be available on their website.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture assigns growing zones or codes to each area of the country, and the 13 regions are further broken down with an A or B. Not all plants will survive in every growing zone, so it’s important to choose those that suit yours. The lower the number, the colder the temperature can get, and A zones are colder than B zones.
While a local shop is probably not going to carry species you can't grow, a website likely services the whole country. Look for plant and seed sellers that designate growing zones for each plant they sell in their descriptions.
Soil types and light requirements differ from one plant to another. When choosing plants or seeds online, find those that match your local environmental factors and sunlight requirements.
Most plants prefer a lighter, sandier soil, but others — such as asters, black-eyed Susans, and coneflowers — can handle a denser soil, like clay. Yarrow, lavender, and Shasta daisies do fine in full sun, which is six or more hours of direct sunlight. Agave and anemones will thrive in partial shade with three to six hours of sunlight per day.
When you purchase seeds and plants online, there should be a description as to what height they will reach and how far the plant will spread once it matures. This information is helpful because it lets you plan a more visually appealing garden. It also allows you to find the perfect-sized plant for a specific space you have in mind.
Once a plant contracts a disease, it’s often impossible to get rid of, resulting in the destruction of that plant and any others to which the infection spread. By purchasing only disease-resistant plants, you can reduce this risk.
There’s nothing worse than losing a beautiful plant to disease after devoting a ton of effort to grow it. Although they cost a bit more, disease-resistant varieties save time and money in the long run. In order to earn the certification, growers must have propagated the plants according to strict inspections and procedures to minimize the chance of infection and disease.
The advantage of starting plants from seeds is that you can grow them inside while the outdoor temperatures are still cold and the ground is frozen. Once the frost-free date arrives, you can transfer the seedlings to your garden.
Buying seeds online early in the winter gives you a better chance to get the varieties you want before stores sell out, or even before they start carrying them for the coming season.
Local gardening centers and home improvement stores may offer some seeds or plants too late in the growing season to ensure successful growth. Online retailers ship year-round so that you can have your seeds or plants in hand at the correct time.
Buying through online stores can make it easier to plan your blooming gardens so that they show color throughout the season.
Vegetable plants that growers raise from the seeds produced through natural pollination are open pollinated plants. Insects and birds could have pollinated the plants, or they could have self-pollinated. These types of plants are very similar to the parent plant in every way.
If you prefer the mature plant to be true-to-type, or you want to be sure you’re not introducing GMOs into your vegetable garden, choose open pollinated plants. Many online plant retailers provide an array of open-pollinated heirloom seeds as well.
Plants at a local retailer have likely spent three to four weeks traveling from a greenhouse to the store. Along the way, they’ve probably experienced varying temperature conditions. If you choose the right online plant store, it's more likely to ship directly from their greenhouse to you.
Check to see that the plant will be packaged carefully so that it can withstand any temperature changes and jostling it may encounter during shipping. Look for online stores that provide a guarantee that the plant will not only arrive on your doorstep in good health but that it won’t die soon after. Reputable sellers will provide a replacement if this happens.
When you purchase a plant online, it won’t look like the beautiful photos you see in its description. Some will arrive in pots, others are young cuttings. You may receive bare-root plants — dormant plants that aren’t actively growing. The grower ships them to you with only soil around their roots.
Read all the company information and plant descriptions carefully so that you know what you’re getting and won't be disappointed.