buy local or mail order?

steviewonder(4)March 21, 2009

Hi everybody, are there any considerations or rules of thumb when deciding where to purchase plants? I have a bed in front of the house that I'd like to fill up this spring so I'm trying to economize. Should I mail order and save about 20%, or should I buy locally?


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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Stevie,

I think youÂre gonna get a different opinion from everybody on this one! When IÂm buying perennials, I very much prefer to buy them locally so I can pick out the individual plant(s) I want, and knock it out of the pot to get a good look at the rootsÂthe most important part of a perennial. And places like PaulinoÂs and Timberline (and TagawaÂs I believe) grow their own plants, so theyÂre already acclimated to our conditions. (The box stores get their stuff from California and other warm growing climates.) Yes, I do occasionally buy from the box stores, but mostly their stuff is so generic that IÂm not interested in itÂand if it is something I want, itÂs usually something I can easily start from seed. I do usually pick up few packs of annuals for my whisky barrels, but last year the stuff at the box stores looked SO bad that I even got the annuals at PaulinoÂs!

My preference to buy locally also has to do with having worked in the green industry! Every year customers would come in to buy plants AFTER they had gotten their mail order plants! You wouldnÂt believe all the stories IÂve heard about tiny/squashed/rotten/moldy/wrong/late/buggy plants, and all sorts of other problems. IÂm sure some places are better than others, but I donÂt have enough experience to make any recommendations. Four years ago, when reading all the irresistible catalogs, I decided to order 3 Siberian iris. I knew they were going to be bare root, but when I got them they were SO tiny, I could hardly believe it! Last year was the first year I got ANY flowersÂand that was a total of 4 flowers on 3 plants! That was the last time I ordered plants thru the mail. I got them from Pinetree, and I still use them for seedÂbut no more "plants!"

Do you come down into the Metro area? If you do, I highly recommend you plan a trip to either PaulinoÂs for pretty good variety and availability of a lot of things in smaller, more affordable sizes, or Timberline for the best selection of perennials in the Denver area, but his smaller sizes are mostly quart size, so not as cheap as the 3½" pots at PaulinoÂs.

Others will probably be along to recommend some mail order places that theyÂve had good luck with, but I kind of suspect that if you buy from a place where you can expect quality plants, by the time you pay the shipping, itÂs going to come out pretty close to the same price as buying locally.

Consider starting some things from seed too. I think half the fun is in watching them grow up! You can always fill in the bare areas with some annuals until the perennials start to grow. And then thereÂs the Spring Swap! :-)


    Bookmark   March 21, 2009 at 7:49PM
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Dan Staley

I try to buy locally as much as possible, as the locals help out the better half in her tree planting programs, and I used to own a business so I know what its like. But I make an exception with High Country Gardens.

I used to have a landscape design and construction business in CA and I've spent literally thousands of dollars there, and of the hundreds of plants I've received from them, I've been disappointed in at most two or three. Groundcover flats, no. But for liners and larger they are first rate, and for their catalogue that is IMHO the best, HCG can't be beat. And most of their plants work in Colo.

After plants are established if there is no patent I will propagate them for others as well and that is a good way to make friends.


    Bookmark   March 21, 2009 at 9:53PM
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I've done a lot of plant buying over the years, and I've gotten to where I do very little mail-order, even though it's hard to beat the selection when you can pick from all of the nurseries in the whole country. I still enjoy perusing their catalogs to see what's new, but you tend to get much smaller plants through mail order, and then you have to add shipping and handling, which can get very expensive if the nursery is far away. Then again, if they are too far away, you might wonder how well adapted their plants are to Colorado. If you look around town, you can find a local source for most of what you see in catalogs. If something is new and hot, and will grow here, it will probably show up in local shops pretty quickly. It is fun to plan out your order when snow is still flying, but I think it is even more fun to shop the nurseries in spring. As stated above, the Big Box stores (Home Dept, Lowes) may not have a comparable selection, or the best varieties available, but when they do have what you're looking for, you won't be able to beat their prices!

    Bookmark   April 2, 2009 at 11:41PM
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david52 Zone 6

I'd agree with everything said above. A few years ago, some of the local nurseries would get flats from HCG at wholesale, and would actually cost the same or less than the same from mail order - I don't know if thats still true.

A few years back, the happy people at Wayside Gardens would have an email, end-of-season sale in June, and we did pick up lots of roses dirt cheap - but thats a gamble - I won the first few times, but lost badly the last few times, and don't do that anymore.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2009 at 11:08AM
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tunnymowg(z6b Salt Lake)

I enjoy Internet shopping from good nurseries, which for me goes hand-in-hand with discovering and learning about gardening online and the amazing variety of stuff that's out there. I love the enormous selection you get online, and I like knowing that I can get *exactly* what I want from just one or two places. Otherwise I might spend time hunting around and still not find everything I want locally. Plus with my OCD tendencies, it's great being able to research plants at home and decide which ones to try (and know where to find them), taking as long as I want at my convenience, rather than depend on finding a really helpful and knowledgeable person at a nursery that may be super-busy when I visit. But when I just need one or two things that are fairly common, or larger shrubs/trees, I do buy them locally.

The Garden Watchdog at Dave's Garden is a great source for reviews and opinions about mail-order nurseries. I've ordered a couple of times from Forestfarm in Oregon and Lazy S's Farm in Virginia (both in the Watchdog top 30, along with HCG I think) and have gotten nice healthy plants from each. The shipping is pretty spendy so I'm not saving any money, but I don't mind since I see gardening and landscaping as an investment anyway. Also, John Scheeper's is great for bulbs - nice variety and less expensive than Brent & Becky's or Old House Gardens.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2009 at 3:16PM
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highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)

I agree with you Dianne. If you are just looking to fill a bed, and are not looking for anything rare or unusual, than I'm sure you would save money buying locally. The small local garden center where I live, has ordered special request items for me before, but can't always get what I am looking for. It seems the longer I garden, the more specific my shopping list becomes. That's one of the reason's I love wintersowing. It is WAY cheaper to grow things from seed, and unless you just have to have one of the newer hybrids, the selection at most mail order seed companies greatly exceeds what you will find at your local garden center.

The mailorder companies I use, if I want something I can't grow from seed, are High Country Gardens, Bluestone Perennials, and Big Dipper Farm.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2009 at 4:01PM
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I haven't bought live plants from catalog retailers yet, but I think I will be using their services in the near future. So, I appreciate this topic being discussed.

We try to buy local - don't buy but a couple of flats of bedding plants and some landscape products now and then.
We have real nice products available from the nurserys in the valley, and we like to support the local businesses if we can.

We are an hour plus, and a zone north, of any big box stores - these are a couple of the reasons we shop in town.

Must say that High Country Gardens sure puts out a nice catalog - have spent so much time getting ideas together from that source. Everything I hear about the quality of the plants they send out sounds top-notch.

Bonnie's point about her efforts to buy-local by asking area retailers to get her what she needs is helpful. It is a good idea for me to ask them to see about ordering some of what I need (if it isn't something they stock). Maybe if enough people ask for special orders they will consider stocking more variety of plants.

Seems like that is happening. Never used to see much in the way of xeric plants for sale here. Now seeing them as people have begun asking for them.

Has anyone had good luck with the bareroot material from Peaceful Valley. I have had good success with PV buying seeds, kelp, and such. They have a selection of bare root blueberries, and some cane fruit plants for sale. Thinking about giving it a go.

I'll have to have a look at Garden Watchdog at Dave's Garden - nice tip Diane.

Warmest regards, eatsivy/Chris

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 12:40PM
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Buy local!!! My favorite resource is Al's Pine Garden & Nursery/ NW corner of 44th & Pierce

They grow everything on site - great selection of native plants, heirlooms, veggies, scented geraniums, everything. Great prices. The family runs it and is available to help, suggest, answer questions. Bring seedling pots back (from anywhere) as they reuse.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 1:21PM
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david52 Zone 6

eatsivy/Chris - I ordered most of my fruit trees from Peaceful Valley - they get their trees from Dave Wilson nurseries - good trees. If you have the space, or can share with neighbors, order 5 because the shipping is the same for less than that.

It may also be getting too late this season for a good selection - they sell out pretty early. But their website ( is kept up-to-date on what's available.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2009 at 8:44PM
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Thanks David - I'll head over to there site and see if I'm too late. :) Chris

    Bookmark   April 6, 2009 at 12:44AM
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Oops - Sold out at PV. I learned my lesson and will order early next year. He who hesitates is lost. Chris/eatsivy

    Bookmark   April 6, 2009 at 1:31AM
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i was content with local nurseries until my obsessive addiction to owning unique plants took over.

mail order or garden trading groups are the only way to satisfy this craving.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2009 at 2:39PM
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