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I've never bought seedlings out of seed catalogs, but am sometimes tempted to (especially by the flashy free $20, no obligation seed catalogs).

I'm just wondering what the considerations are when ordering seedlings by mail. I worked in a postal distribution center once and I don't think we would have taken too special precaution not to disturb the roots of any box (although we tried to be very careful when someone sends baby chicks). Not to mention the unnatural darkness of the mail truck and the time it takes to get from place to place, the possible pressure changes caused by driving through mountains or air mail, etc.

Anyway, are mail order plants OK or should any be specifically avoided?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I bought a few fruit trees, a grapevine, and eight blueberry bushes from Fedco Trees last spring, and all survived. I know people who have bought hundreds of bareroot Christmas trees through the mail, with good survival rates.

In my experience, the plants are very young (so don't have huge root systems) and the roots are packed in wet shredded newspaper (which retains moisture well) and the whole thing is sealed in a plastic bag.

You can make a "test purchase" of just a couple of items to see how well they package the plants and what condition they arrive in. This will give you a good idea of whether you want to trust that company to package a larger order properly.

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Test purchase is a great idea, good way to spend that $20 dollar coupon. –  Peter Turner Jun 13 '11 at 17:47

I've bought plenty of samples domestically in Australia with a fairly high (>90%) success rate. I find that people who care enough to grow & sell plants generally care enough to pack & ship them correctly. If you're buying from somewhere like eBay where the seller's reputation is at stake, the results are usually great.

Be wary of long distance haulage though, where plants may be stored in cold storage areas for potentially long periods of time.

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Experienced companies will take care to pack the roots very well. Do plan on higher mortality than you would when buying from a nursery.

You might check state laws, which control interstate agriculture. California, where I live, is pretty strict, as far as I can tell. For example sometimes live plants can't be shipped into particular states, but seeds can. I have had very good luck with tree seedlings, such that I now have many ~6' cypress trees, where I had only expected a couple to survive.

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I've had both success and failure at ordering seedlings. The best advice I can give is to look up reviews online for the catalog you're buying from. If they're mostly positive reviews I'd try it out.

Also go for a quicker shipping time.

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