Shopping for Plants & Seeds
By Dr. Leonard P. Perry, Extension Professor, University of Vermont

One of my favorite means of getting through a long winter is to start this
coming year's gardening by looking through catalogs, books, and shopping

Several considerations when shopping early for plants and seeds will make
the process fun and less overwhelming.  You'll end up with more garden
successes this season, and fewer disappointments.
Photos May be "Enhanced"

Whether ordering plants or seeds, keep in mind they will seldom look as
spectacular in your garden as they do in the catalogs.  Thanks to photo
technology, just as with models, plant photos are often "enhanced".  

Plus, they are usually taken under ideal conditions or at professional display
gardens.  The printing process, if not done properly, may alter colors

Consider the photos as a useful guide, just don't despair if your plants aren't
quite the colors shown, and the plants aren't as tall or wide, nor the flowers
quite as large.  I often find this the case in my North Country gardens where
the light isn't as bright, nor are my beds as ideal and fertile as those where
those "model plants" were photographed.
Don't Order Too Many Plants or Seeds

Another warning for both plants and seeds is to only order what you can
manage to plant and care for.  Remember, you don't just plant and walk away
until bloom or harvest time.  The more you plant, the more time will be
needed for watering, weeding, and other care.
Speaking from experience, it is too easy during a long winter to end up
ordering a bit here and a bit there.  The final result is way more plants and
seedlings than you have time to plant and care for, or even space for.  

I try to figure just where plants will go in my gardens when ordering.  Of
course all may not germinate, or be available, but you can always buy others
later to fill in.  Chances are you'll end up seeing some plants this season you
"must" have, and having a few extra spaces in beds or the garden for these
unplanned purchases is always handy.
Especially with seeds, order only enough for your needs.  Otherwise, you will
be faced with entirely too many plants or with storing the unused seeds.  
Ordering just what you can use and handle is one of the toughest problems
most gardeners face this time of year, as seeds are so much easier to get too
many of than plants.  But, if so, at least you can store leftovers of most seeds
for a year or more under cool and dry conditions ( a jar in the refrigerator
works well).
Figure out How Many Plants You'll Need

When ordering seeds, first figure how many plants you'll need.  Then consult
the catalog description to find the percent germination, and how many seeds
per packet.  The germination is important, since if the packet has enough
seeds, but the germination is low, you'll want to order more.  Some packets
such as geraniums may only contain 5 seeds, as they are quite choice and
harder to produce.  Others may contain hundreds of seeds and be enough for
several years!
Choose for Our Northern Growing Season

Choose varieties that will bear fruit or flowers in our short northern growing
season.  This is especially important for vegetables, such as tomatoes or corn.  
Days until harvest are usually given in the descriptions.  For instance if your
growing season is about 90 days, and you pick a variety that takes 120 days to
bear fruit, you may be out of luck!

Consider All-American Selections

When ordering seeds, consider the All-America Selections.  These are new
introductions that have been judged best by horticulture professionals
nationwide.  These selections are one reason to start your own plants, as many
are quite good, and can't be found at many garden stores or even
greenhouses.  You can learn more about this program online
There are many new annual plants, often called "specialty annuals", grown
from cuttings rather than seeds.  You can read about these in catalogs and
online, but an increasing number are available at local garden outlets so you
may wish to plan now but buy locally this spring.
Shop Around

Catalogs and online websites also may be used for ordering plants that arrive
in the mail later in the spring.  This is a good way to find many new and
unusual perennial plants that may not be available locally.  This is especially
true if you are interested in a certain genus, group, or niche of plants such as
hostas or aquatic plants.  

If you have some complete garden centers and specialty nurseries in your
area, you may wish to check their listings first before ordering from catalogs.  
More than once I have found and ordered a prized plant in a catalog, only to
find it later cheaper locally, and without having to pay shipping!

Order from Reliable Sources

When ordering plants there are several important points to remember.  Order
from reliable sources in order to get good value and plants that are shipped
properly.  Such sources are ones you may have used before, or heard
recommended by friends and neighbors. Beware of inexpensive plants.  Price
is often a good indication of quality and lower prices often reflect poor
quality.  These plants seldom resemble those in the catalog, and they often die.

Check Hardiness

Finally, with perennial plants make sure and check their hardiness. Hardiness
zones are often quite variable among catalogs, so look at several for a
particular plant. Then take an average or use the more conservative (warmer)
zone figures if you want to be more assured of a plant surviving.

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Shopping for Plants and Seeds