Buying: mail order plants

The internet has transformed gardeners' shopping habits. Buying plants by mail order from the comfort of your own home couldn't be easier – you can order from reputable nurseries and specialist growers to supply your favourite plants.

Plant catalogues remain ever popular, however, and offer photographs of bountiful crops and beautiful flowers.

Buying: mail order plants

Quick facts

Suitable for Most plants
Timing Autumn and spring are the main seasons
Difficulty Easy

Suitable for...

This advice on buying through mail order is for trees, shrubs, perennials, alpines, annuals, herbs, bulbs, fruit and vegetables.

When to buy mail order and expect plants

If you've never bought plants by mail order, here's what to expect;

  • Mail order plant season is usually October to March, but some companies offer containerised stock all year round. See websites and catalogues for details
  • Autumn is the ideal time for delivery of bare root trees and shrubs plus spring-flowering bulbs, so plan ahead in the summer for your requirements
  • Annuals, perennials and summer-flowering bulbs are delivered in spring. A good pastime in winter is to trawl catalogues and be inspired

How to buy plants mail order

Selecting and buying plants by mail order is not always straightforward. The following are points worth considering:

  • Size: Check what size plants are offered. Bear in mind that smaller plants may establish more quickly than larger plants
  • Unpack your plants immediately on delivery
  • Plant as soon as possible: Aim to plant as soon as possible after delivery particularly with tree and shrub planting. Keep container-grown plants well-watered and protect bare-root plants and bulbs from frost in a frost-proof shed or similar environment. Lacking this, consider checking plant roots are moist and repack with sufficient packing (e.g. straw) to exclude frost until planting is possible
  • Bare-root plants: Ensure bare-root plants do not dry out if weather conditions are not favourable for planting. Unwrap packaging and stand roots in a bucket of moist compost to prevent desiccation. Keep in a frost-free place and plant as soon as possible once the weather conditions improve. Bare-root trees and shrubs can be heeled into a trench (dug deep enough to go below frozen soil and backfilled with unfrozen soil) until conditions improve
  • Bulbs: Large-sized bulbs are usually the best choice as bigger bulbs produce the best plants. Bulbs should be firm and only just showing growth at the neck end. For more information see bulb planting
  • Plug plants: Seasonal bedding plants can be bought in bulk and grown on at home. The benefit of these is that their roots are not disturbed when potting-on. Water well on arrival and keep in frost-free conditions as small plants are more vulnerable to cold conditions. They will need hardening off before planting out 

Problems

A few points to remember to avoid problems;

  • The main drawback when buying plants via mail order is that you cannot see what you're buying. Always use nurseries with a good reputation. Try the RHS Plant Finder
  • Good nurseries and mail order suppliers give a clear indication of the size of plants and/or pots - check these meet your needs before placing an order
  • Delivery charges and a minimum spend should be taken into account
  • Some of the plants on your order may be out of stock – placing an order doesn't guarantee availability
  • Avoid ordering plants in the hot summer months
  • If something goes wrong, write to the company and explain what happened. Check individual nurseries' refund policy and make sure you have carried out correct planting procedures and have chosen the right plant for the right place

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