A New Year in the Garden

Shopping for Your Plants by Mail or Online


By Kathy Jentz

It is a new year according to the calendar and according to your mailbox. If you’re like most gardeners you can tell it’s the deep winter dormant season not by the chilly weather, but by the number of the mailorder garden catalogs flooding in right now.

I personally have received two or three catalogs per day since January 1. If you didn’t get a wide selection of gardening catalogs this year, you can go online to request some be sent to you. A good jumping off point is: http://www.mailordergardening.com/ which has several hundred mailorder garden companies listed with their full contact information and broken down by plant categories.

What are the advantages of mailorder or online ordering? According to the Mailorder Gardening Association, they are:

  • Greater selection of products
  • The convenience of armchair shopping
  • Best guarantees in the business
  • Plants and products directly to your door

I especially like that last bullet point. Getting that box of new plants or seeds delivered to your door is like opening a gift to yourself. What a great present to come home to after a long day at the office! And no need to haul heavy plants home on the metro or bus.

One of the best things about getting mailorder garden catalogs or surfing their web sites is that you can do it from the warm comfort of your own home at any time. You are able to sit down and plot out your garden plan on paper before buying. You can dream big at this point and transport yourself to springtime with these luscious photos and detailed plant descriptions. 


Garden catalogs let you take a mental vacation from the frigid days of winter, and they serve as helpful planning tools because they show you the newest plants and products for your garden,” said Roberta Simpson-Dolbeare, president of the Mailorder Gardening Association (MGA), which sponsors National Mailorder Gardening Month. “Gardening catalogs and web sites are a great way to get a jumpstart on the gardening season. Many of them also provide helpful information for both new and long-time gardeners.”

Just how popular are mailorder garden products? The MGA estimates that Americans spend $3.1 billion annually on mailorder plants
, bulbs, seeds, garden tools and garden supplies. If you’re planning to order from a mailorder gardening catalog or gardening website, you’re in good company. More than 24.2 million American households are expected to place orders with mailorder garden catalogs and websites this year, spending an average of $128 per household.

When I settle in to peruse this year‘s catalog offerings, I like to have a large scratchpad, Post-its, and pens nearby to sketch out garden bed ideas and keep track of what I want from each catalog. Here are some additional mailorder gardening suggestions:

  • Choose plants appropriate to the DC area. That means Zones 6-7. Luckily for us, that is still a very broad range of plants. Most of what we cannot have in this area or tropicals — which if you must have a specimen you can attempt as a summer annual or try to keep in a heated greenhouse.
  • Check out the helpful glossary of terms often included and read the descriptions carefully. If you don’t know what an “indeterminate” tomato vine is, pick up the phone or go online and ask. Most garden catalogs have a very helpful, knowledgeable staff in their customer service departments.
  • Order early to avoid “sold out” notices. I’m still depressed over that corkscrew vine I wanted so badly last year. This time, I’ve learned my lesson! Although procrastination does have a few benefits. If you buy online and sign-up for a company’s mail list, in late Spring you’ll often be sent sale and clearance price offers on overstocked items. These are great for filling in where a perennial has not come back or a new plant has just not flourished as you’d hoped.
  • Keep careful records of what you’ve ordered and where you intend to place them in your garden. This will help you immensely in unpacking your plants several months from now. This also avoids the “now where do I put this?” syndrome, as you stand mid-garden with new plant in hand.

When I do my actual ordering, it is online. That way I get a receipt in my email box, print it out, and can make notes on that as well.

Two extremely helpful online sites to visit before you place your orders are:

  • Dave’s Garden: The Garden Watchdog (http://davesgarden.com/gwd/)
    This site has contact information for hundreds of mailorder gardening companies and reviews from fellow gardeners who have used these companies.
  • Garden Web: Sources Forum (http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/sources/)
    This site allows you to search on posts from other gardeners or to post your own query. Many use it to look for a specific plant source or to ask about a catalog they’ve never ordered from before for other’s opinions and experiences.

About the author:

Kathy’s stack of garden catalog is awaiting the next snow day for her chance to sit down with a cup of cocoa in front of the fireplace to peruse them all. She is editor of Washington Gardener magazine (www.WashingtonGardener.com) and a long-time DC area gardening enthusiast. Kathy can be reached at  washingtongardener@rcn.com and welcomes your gardening questions.


   Washington Gardener magazine, is the only gardening publication published specifically for the local metro area — zones 6-7 — Washington DC and its suburbs.

   The magazine is written entirely by local area gardeners. They have real-world knowledge and practical advice with the same problems you experience in your own gardens. They share their thoughts on what to plant in deep shade, how to cover bare spots, which annuals work best throughout the humid DC summers, and much more. If you are a DC area gardener, you’ll love Washington Gardener magazine!

    The magazine is published four times per year with a cover price of $4.99. To subscribe to the magazine: Send a check/money order for $20.00 payable to “Washington Gardener” magazine to: Washington Gardener, 826 Philadelphia Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20910 OR to pay via Paypal/credit card click on the “subscribe” link at www.WashingtonGardener.com.

     Washington Gardener magazine also makes a great gift for the gardeners and new home owners in your life!


# # #



About the Author

Kathy Jentz
Kathy Jentz is editor of Washington Gardener magazine and is a long-time DC area gardening enthusiast. Washington Gardener is all about gardening where you live. She can be reached at @WDCgardener on Twitter and welcomes your local DMV gardening questions.