7 Things to Consider Before and After You Buy Plants Online
Has there ever been a better time to forgo traveling to a store, and opt for buying online instead? We’re used to ordering a lot of things online - from groceries to electronics. And we have no doubt that for plant lovers ordering a plant online might be really tempting, especially if we’re talking about a specimen that’s hard to get locally.
But before you click that Order button, here are a few things to check.
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Things to pay attention to before you buy plants online
1. Seller reputation
Word of mouth is always a good place to start. Ask your friends and family whether they’ve purchased a plant from a specific retailer. If you have a certain retailer in mind, you can ask in online groups and forums what other buyers’ experience was. You can also read other online reviews to see what other people say about a certain company - seek out reviews that mention how the plant was packed and shipped.
One thing to keep in mind is that especially online, not all reviews are genuine. On the one hand, people are more likely to leave a review if something goes wrong with a purchase. On the other hand, there are a lot of fake reviews floating online.
While you’re at it, check whether the company offers any sort of money-back guarantee. If the plant gets to you in a bad state due to the seller, will they offer to replace it? Many companies offer a 30-day guarantee as a replacement or a refund.
2. Plant specifications
If you’ve checked step one off the list, you will have probably noticed that this complaint pops up quite often in plant seller reviews: nice plant, but I thought it would be bigger.
Just like fashion retailers use the retouched photos of a good-looking model to lure us into buying a shirt or an elegant pair of pants, so do plant retailers. Well, not human models, but plant models. The photos that plant sellers use in their online stores might not accurately reflect the plant that you’ll be getting. Model plants often tend to be larger, shinier, and with zero yellow leaves or blemishes in sight.
That’s why you have to read the fine print regarding the size and condition of your precious purchase. Are you buying a mature plant or a baby plant? Is it going to be delivered bare-root or potted? Will it come with care instructions or do you need to download them separately?
3. Shipment information
Once you’ve established that you’re buying the plant that you want from a reliable seller, have a closer look at the shipping information.
First of all, is the seller allowed to ship to you at all? If you live in the United States, for example, you’re not allowed to import plants from other countries as an individual (for sanitary reasons). So you should only buy from sellers that ship from the US. Most reputable sellers outside the US will know about these restrictions, and won’t allow you to place an order. However, smaller companies and independent sellers can’t be expected to know about country-specific regulations. They’ll ship your plant and take your money, but your plant will most likely die a sad death in Customs.
What is the estimated shipping time? If your plant ships from far away, it will likely get stuck in a box longer than what is ideal. Adding priority shipping usually comes at a price, especially if you’re expecting a large box.
What’s the weather going to be like? If you’re shipping a plant in extreme temperatures (whether we’re talking about heatwaves or below-freezing weather), there’s not much that a plant seller can do to mitigate that. Some sellers will use heat packs, giving the plant a fighting chance in really cold weather, but even this isn’t guaranteed to be a safe delivery method.
When will the plant be delivered, and will you be at home to receive it? Or will the plant stay on your porch in below-freezing temperatures? If the weather is too extreme for your plant to make it home safe, consider postponing your purchase until milder weather comes around.
Steps to take once you get your online plant order
Yay! The plant made it to its new home safely! But are you ready to receive it? Here are the first four things you should do to ensure it has the best start possible in its new environment.
1. Take your plant out of the box and remove all packaging
Yes, we know that sounds a bit obvious. Who wouldn’t unbox a new purchase, right? Lots of people! We’ve been guilty of letting a box float around the house unopened for a few days too, but that’s not a luxury we have with live houseplants.
Open the box and carefully take out the plant. Do this outdoors or in the bathroom, as shipping contents may have shifted and it may get messy, especially if you’ve chosen a potted plant. If you notice the plant is damaged in any way, now’s the best time to take a picture. This way, you’ll have proof if you decide to ask for a refund or a replacement. But don’t jump on that bandwagon just yet - it’s normal (even expected) for a plant to lose a leaf or two due to the stress experienced during shipping.
Remove all the packaging (and we recommend you save some, just in case you have your own plants to ship) and look for hidden packaging too (such as ties and growth mesh that can restrict the growth of the plant).
If the plant came with a label or care instructions, don’t discard that. Keep it handy or stick the label in the plant pot.
2. Transfer the plant to soil, if necessary
If your plant was shipped without a container, now is the best time to give it a home. Have some potting soil ready and pick a container that’s deep enough for the soil to cover the roots.
However, if you ordered a pre-potted plant, you should skip this step and allow the plant to acclimate to its new environment before any serious repotting. (We recommend an acclimation period of about a month.)
3. Water thoroughly
After a few days (or maybe a few weeks) in transit, the first “treat” a mail-order plant needs is a big glug of water. Rehydrate your plant in one go by placing it under a faucet and letting the water flow into the pot until it comes out on the other side. Then let all the water drain out of the pot. (You are using a container with drainage holes, right?)
4. Slowly acclimate the plant to its new environment
The plants started their journey in a temperature-controlled greenhouse (most likely), traveled through several warehouses or distribution centers via delivery trucks with little insulation, only to end up in a whole new environment (your home). You can see how this may stress a plant, right?
That’s why it’s a good idea to slowly acclimate the houseplant to its new location. Make the transition as smooth as possible: don’t move the plant from pitch dark to full bright light, don’t overwater it, and don’t fertilize it.
Just like anything that has to do with plants, getting a new houseplant incorporated into your home and your life takes one main ingredient: patience. Observe the plant as it recovers and thrives in its new home, and adjust its care accordingly.