Catalog Survival Guide

Catalog Survival Guide

For plant lovers of the new or unusual, catalogs are the short path to satisfaction "¦ sometimes. Although nursery catalogs, Web sites and television shopping give Rogue Valley gardeners fast and convenient access to new plants, satisfaction does not necessarily ensue.

"It's kind of seductive, especially with photos of beautiful, mature plants," says Richard Nudelman, a Medford gardener who's partial to roses and orchids. But what you receive is an immature version and sometimes stressed by shipping.

"I'm used to going in and buying healthy plants," says Nudelman. "If there's anything wrong, you can't go down to the nursery and exchange it."

The more you know about catalog shopping, the more you will be satisfied by the experience, says Janet Inada, owner of Medford's Rogue Valley Roses, which sells locally and online.

We've gathered some tips to help ensure your gardening satisfaction during catalog season.

Being informed about the plant you want is a broad avenue to satisfaction, says Inada. "Look for Web sites that do supply information."

She suggests looking for clues that Web sellers are striving for accuracy. As an example, "Our rose heights are given for our zone, and we tell customers that in colder zones, plants will be smaller," she says.

Read plant descriptions carefully, says garden author Baldassare Mineo. "Make sure you don't buy a plant that won't survive in our zone."

Know the height and breadth of the space you have, its light exposure, soil type and drainage conditions. With so many choices available, you can buy to specifically fill your space.

Investigate the Web site thoroughly. Can you find information easily? Is the contact information accessible? Seek out Web sites that allow you to search according to your needs. Inada says her company spends lots of time organizing plants so they can be searched by characteristics like height, color and fragrance. A good search engine is important when you are looking through a catalog of thousands of cultivars, she says.

Seek information in reference books, not just online, Inada says. Sunset's "Western Garden Guide" is a good choice because it addresses our regional climate issues. Web-site forums can provide some information and feedback from other customers with similar plant interests.

Inada suggests www.Helpmefind.com for roses, peonies and clematis. Other places to look for forums include www.gardenweb.com and www.backyardgardener.com.

Prices vary for good reasons.

"A lot of things do come out in catalogs first," says Mineo. These newly patented plants have higher prices, so be extra careful with your purchasing. Sometimes you can save money online. Catalogs offer end-of-season specials, and sometimes you can get an unusual plant at a bargain price.

Inada says every plant has its own "low-cost" season. And remember: Shipping costs go up as you buy bigger plants. To cut costs, buy in smaller sizes or buy bare-root plants, Mineo says.

Plant your prize as soon as it arrives, says Mineo. "Especially if the soil is disturbed or if it's a bare-root specimen." He never plants his purchases directly into the garden. Instead, he pots them. Three months is usually a sufficient period for plants to put out enough root growth to survive the moles, heat, underwatering and other challenges that garden plants experience, he says.

You may have to mimic some of the conditions the plant was growing in before you received it.

"Be aware that plants grown in warmer climates will be further into the growth cycle, and plants grown in colder climates will need to catch up," he says. "Give them the conditions they need to help them adjust to the Rogue Valley."

Getting the right plant in the first place is better than getting your money back, says Nudelman.

"The level of frustration increases when you are a novice gardener because you can't recognize the errors."

With these tips and a bit of research, you may avoid big disappointment next spring. Now, where are the catalogs?

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