January Is National Mail Order Gardening Month

By Jeff Rugg

January 7, 2015 5 min read

Did you shop at your local garden center for the holidays? Many garden centers sell Christmas trees, a wide variety of decorations, poinsettias and other holiday plants. I hope you support them in the winter, as they are going to be your best source of plants in the spring and summer. They will also have the best information about the plants that grow in your area.

If you are a new gardener or have just moved to a new climate, the best place to buy plants that are suited to your locale is your local garden center. Some garden centers are better than others in terms of plant care or pricing and some have more knowledgeable people, so check them all out, until you find the best fit for you.

As you become an experienced gardener, you will want plants that you have a hard time finding locally. This new-plant situation is a Catch-22. If people don't buy new plants, then stores won't stock them and if they are not in stock, people can't buy them. Big-box stores often have very little variety. They just stock the few species that locally sold well in the past.

Some local garden centers find it difficult to supply rare or new varieties. If people don't buy the new varieties, they are not worth the space and labor. So, if you want new exciting colors and often plants that are easier to care for, you need to ask your local garden center for them. Or, search out the specialty garden center in your region that will take the time to find the plants you want.

Catalogs are a great way to get plants that are special, new, rare or hard to grow. Your local garden center can't stock 300 colors of daylilies or iris, or every kind of peony, but somewhere out there is a grower with a catalog who does have all the plants you want.

If you want to buy plants or seeds through a catalog, it helps to understand some of the definitions you will find. First, be aware of the term "new." It might be an old plant variety that is just new to the catalog. Watch out for plants that are listed as prizewinners or plants of the year. If the plant was grown in trial gardens, and won an award, it is a worthy plant. Look for All-America Selections winners, All-America Daylily Selections and All-America Rose Selections.

The term "annuals" is used for plants that sprout, bloom, produce seeds and then die all within one year. Perennials will live for several years or even many decades. Tender perennials need extra protection from winter weather.

You will need to know which hardiness zone you live in. There is more than one source of cold hardiness zone maps, so most catalogs will show an example of the one they are using. You will need to keep track of which one each catalog is using to use the right zone for your house.

Hybrid vegetables are often more tolerant of insect or disease problems, while the terms open-pollinated, heirloom or antique are used for older varieties that may not look very pretty, but may taste better and won't be found in the grocery store.

Tomatoes that are listed as determinate will stop growing taller at the height listed, while indeterminate tomatoes will just keep on growing all over the place and will need to be staked, caged or tied up.

Catalog companies that are a part of the Direct Gardening Association are reputable and will work quickly to resolve problems to your satisfaction. The organization is 75 years old and not only represents the catalog companies, it sponsors the Green Thumb Awards for new plants and products. It also sponsors a program where hundreds of schools receive Dutch bulbs for use on their school grounds to help kids learn about gardening.

The new year just started, but for gardeners, it is time to start dreaming of summer and fresh tomatoes.

Email questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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