Year-round gardening: Joy of perusing catalogs

KITTY WEST Updated: January 28, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: January 28, 2013

The activity: How to determine the quality of your gardening catalogs.

Why: Not all catalogs are created equal, nor are the products and information they provide. An efficient review of catalogs will ensure you make the best use of your purchasing dollars and the smartest choices for a successful garden.

How: The following list provides tips on what to look for when reviewing catalogs:

• Does the catalog have an index of plants? When you know the name of the plant, you can quickly determine whether the catalog offers that particular plant and the different cultivars offered.

Note: Many plants have multiple cultivars. By reviewing multiple catalogs and references, you will have a better idea of the cultivars available.

• Does the catalog give the scientific name? If so, you will know what plant you are ordering. For example, Salvia nemorosa is hardy in zones 3-8 and Salvia splendens is a tender annual. A mistake regarding hardiness might mean that your plant will not survive.

• What guarantee is offered? Guarantees can be specific or vague. For example, the guarantee in one catalog required return within one year of the shipment date. Another catalog says the plant may be returned if not completely satisfied, i.e., no time limit given for the return.

Check if the return will result in a refund, credit or replacement plant.

• How do the prices compare? Determining this can be a bit tricky. You also want to know the pot size. When you compare plants that ship in like-size pots, you can find significant differences in prices. For example, one catalog offered Gaillardia “Arizona Sun” for $7 and another catalog offered the same plant for $8.99. The more-expensive plant came in a premium pot that is easier to handle with a root depth that is equal to a gallon-size container.

Shipping prices can also vary. Look for shipping bargains early in the new year.

• How much detail about the cultural requirements of the plant is in the catalog description? Will the plant tolerate drought? It is likely that we will be on watering restrictions later in the year, so drought resistance is important. Find information on how to water efficiently at www.cmg.colostate.edu/gardennotes/267.pdf.

Consider the sun-exposure recommendation. At our altitude, full sun means at least 6 hours per day.

Perhaps the most important piece of information is the USDA cold-hardiness zone. Without that information, you cannot determine with any certainty whether the plant will survive the winter. Colorado Springs generally is considered a zone 6a (minimum temperature of minus 5 degrees). However, within the Pikes Peak region some areas might be as cold as a zone 4a (minimum temperature of minus 20 degrees). To get the USDA estimate of the average cold hardiness in your zip code, go to plant hardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb.

Deer and rabbit resistance might also be useful.

The mature size and form are details about individual plants that help ensure you select appropriate plant material. Catalogs that provide this information demonstrate that your success is a priority and likely will be better partners in your gardening ventures.

Retain the catalogs that you have found to be useful. They can be a valuable resource if questions arise.

When: Gardening catalogs typically are mailed in the early months of the year.

What’s needed: Time to review and compare the products in the catalogs online and in your mailbox.

When you have questions, CSU has research-based answers. Get answers to you horticultural questions by calling the Master Gardener Volunteer Help Desk at 520-7684 or emailing CSUmg2@elpasoco.com. Note: Volunteers are “on call” during our winter hours. Please allow 7-10 days for a response.

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