Buying plants thru online suppliers vs. big box or local stands

dowbright(z6 in Missouri)April 3, 2014

I notice that annual flower plants are available at the places I like and have ordered seeds from for years, first through catalogs, and now online. But they're more than double the price of what I can find locally, if not more.

Do you think there's better quality from the seed companies? I know there are more specific varieties to choose from. But are the ones from the plain old local big box places that much inferior?

I do buy certain things from a lovely little family biz that has great quality stuff, but their offerings are limited.

I'm going back and forth with myself on this! I need some more experienced advice. Your thoughts? Buy plants online?

Thanks in advance for any feedback. :)

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

when specifically talking annuals ... i would shop price alone ...

trees.. conifers.. etc.. things that dont transport .. nor transplant well ... i would shy away from bigboxstore and pay extra to a quality vendor ...

perennials.. some of both ... depending if there are plant that my life will end.. if i cant get them.. and the local peeps dont carry them .. in my case.. back in the day.. the $100 hosta .. and the rare conifers ....

i simply cant conceptualize why you would pay a premium for a run of the mill annual ...


    Bookmark   April 3, 2014 at 9:29PM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

I'm confused - are you talking about seeds or plants?

Regarding seeds, I buy some off the rack and order some. The primary reason I order a lot of seed is because I can get individual colors, plus there is a much wider variety of offerings in seed catalogs, stuff you won't find on the local rack. For run of the mill stuff, I buy off the rack - herbs, vegetables, common annuals (e.g. moonflower, morning glory). Interestingly, I will buy Burpee seed off the rack but will not order seed from them - I have gotten bad seed in past years (packages of broken impatiens seeds, for example), whereas the Burpee stuff off the rack is usually find. Truthfully, though - I'll buy other brands before Burpee.

Regarding annual plants - I choose to support local nurseries not big box stores, even if that means paying more. Enough said.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 6:31AM
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I have seen a few annual plants offered by the seed companies (Park's & Johnny's) that have really tempted me. Hybrids that are not sold by the local vendors and that you can't grow from seed - so I understand the temptation.

So far I have resisted. Told myself i wouldn't buy any annuals until I felt like the money spent on lighting/trays etc. for seed starting had paid for itself.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 8:11AM
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samhain10(5a - MI)

Everyone's making good points here, but I'll add a few thoughts. If you're looking for annuals, and your goal is a beautiful display without worrying about whether some plant is "such and such" particular cultivar, then there's no need to go the more expensive route of ordering through the mail. Those higher prices are, these days, often a reflection of the higher shipping costs. Your local stores are paying shipping one way - from the growers to them. The mail order companies are paying costs not just from the growers, but to YOU. And shipping these days is through the roof - as a retail seller (of books), I can tell you this from firsthand experience. (Actually, books are less expensive than anything else, but our rates have gone up so drastically, I shudder to think what it's like in other businesses.)
That said, yes, I'm frequently tempted by those beautiful glossy pics in the ads. But - unless you just have to have that particular variety of whatever, if your local store has some pretty petunias that you like then go for it!

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 9:11AM
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Carolinaflowerlover NC Zone 7b

My budget is small, so I go for price/quality. That said, I shop big box stores (mainly their clearance tacks), small box stores, local stores/farmer's market, and online retailers (such as Everwilde and SeedsforThee). I am not into super-fancy stuff, though. :)

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 11:03AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I have never and will never buy mail order annual plants. Never! I always purchase my seeds on-line, however. I order a few perennial plants almost every year, to fill in and to add to the collection.

I've been lucky, I guess, in that I've been in the position to make suggestions to privately owned garden centers about annuals that look exciting and promising. I've rarely seen and coveted any annual that can't be grown from seed, though.

I'm really curious about annuals that are so special that they are worthy of mail order prices and shipping.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 11:29AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i was coming back for a followup.. and rhiz caught it ...

i collect plants .. hosta... conifers.. daylily .. iris.. etc ...

who collects annuals???? ... so why pay extra ..

but.. the one upside would be.. if you are so location isolated... that you will spend more on gas... to get to a few nurseries.. then mail order might be the way to go ...

i did think of coleus ... some peeps collect them ... but they are actually a perennial, often sold as an annual .. that can be brought in the house for winter in the colder zones ... so .. in my world.. they would be collectable ..


    Bookmark   April 4, 2014 at 1:01PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

This sounds horrible before I even type it. But, some people have more money than time. So, if they can shop at home at midnight and place an order that guarantees arrival of whatever they want on their doorstep, without them having to make trips to multiple nurseries, that's what they'll do. And they don't even ask what the price is.


    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 7:30AM
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    Bookmark   April 5, 2014 at 7:31AM
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Campanula UK Z8

Here in the UK, the annual (actually perennial) tender bedding market shows little sign of abating - an absolute mystery to me since the general practice is to buy in loads of geraniums, petunias etc, then toss them in September, ready to do the whole thing again next year. For one, I am not at all keen on many of these plants )although I do grow bacopa and sometimes a few nemesias).....but they are simple and easy to grow from seed, take cuttings in late summer and overwinter in a coldframe or cold greenhouse. I would buy some precious perennial through mail order but never in a million years would i buy run of the mill annuals or tender perennial bedders. Seed, I generally order because there are better deals online and much, much varied choice, especially if ordering from independent growers with their own rare collections. Will buy lettuce, beans, broccoli etc. from store racks.
Having said that, we have no real equivalent to Annie's Annuals in the UK, where I would probably be tempted to buy at least one plant of something a bit nice (and save seed or cuttings forever after).

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 6:09AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Martha, that does sound rather mean. Perhaps you didn't intend for it to come across that way.

Though I can't understand the purchase of true annual plants from a far off mail order company, the purchase of specialty perennials from on-line sources is pretty essential for avid gardeners. Many of these plants are simply not available in the local retail marketplace.

Might not be important to the average person, but serious gardeners choose to collect the unusual, the rare cultivar.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 8:08AM
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I started buying my stuff online because I worried about the diseases and "pests" I would end up with when buying Big Box Store plants. They may be high quality to start with, but then they are transported and come into contact with any number of other plants and produce, which can cause cross contamination. I always ended up with those little nasty gnat things in my houseplants and then had to buy stuff to get rid of them.

The other aspect is that most of these big box stores will not have any kind of guarantee on the plants. You can take them home, plant them and have them die overnight and you will not be reimbursed for them.

That being said, I also had my share of disappointments online (I NEVER had good luck with catalogs at all). But...I've found a good place, with decent prices, a satisfaction guarantee and the best customer service anywhere. They even have a Master Gardener on staff to ask questions of and an extensive blog section (Latest News) with all kinds of pertinent information dating clear back to 2008 (I think!). I won't buy anywhere else now...unless I get too late a start and just want to plop something in the ground and hope for the best :) Hope this helps!

Here is a link that might be useful: THE Best Garden Supply Ever!

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 10:49AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Grandma, I thought that most of the big box stores have guarantees. I'm sorry that you've had such bad luck with plants....that seems unusual.

I've never had problems with any of my on-line purchases. I limit my purchases to the harder to find perennials so need a supplier which caters to people like me.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 12:21PM
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I bought some seeds online, especially for plants that I particularly liked, and wanted a larger supply of them at a cheaper price.

Another example of buying some plants online would be if I couldn't find that specific type locally. For example, some sedums have great foliage and flowers and I'd like them in my yard, but can't get them locally.

Other than that, the other generic annuals from a local store, whether that is box store or family nursery, are fine for me.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 12:42PM
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mxk3(Zone 6 SE MI)

I don't think what Martha said is mean at all. It's true. Time is a commodity, and a valuable one at that. If dude is making $$$$$$ but is working 70-80+ hours per week, time is the limiting factor, not money - easier and more time effective to order what he needs or pay a gardener take care of it all. So what. Nothing wrong with that.

This post was edited by mxk3 on Thu, Apr 10, 14 at 9:12

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 8:38AM
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I am not aware of any big box store that runs its own nursery. They buy from the same wholesale growers as the retail nursery does. In both cases some growers supply a better product than others. It is up to you to recognize the better plant. I never buy plants that have to be shipped. Luckily I am within driving distance to Annies, so I do get a once a year trip to select unusual plants, after seeing them in demonstration plantings. Generally from the big box stores I will buy run of the mill bedding plants in sixpacs, pot up into 4 inch pots for finishing off before planting into my garden beds. Al

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 9:29AM
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