Recently, I was asked by a friend about a certain plant she wanted to order from a catalog she got in the mail.

I was somewhat unfamiliar with it and had not actually ever seen that plant growing around this area. It looked like a nice enough plant and it fit our “cold hardiness” zone, but I believe there is a reason I’ve never seen it growing here.

Unique plants are fun to consider in these mail-order catalogs. The pictures look great and we think how nice it would be to have plants no one else around us has growing. But we must ask ourselves why no one else has them.

There are so many factors that go into the success of the plants we choose: Cold hardiness (the average annual minimum temperatures) is only one. While low temperatures can predict if a plant makes it through a winter, we must consider other important factors such as soil characteristics, soil pH, local rainfall totals, light requirements, naturally occurring nutrients, etc.

These catalogs come from all over the country and usually don’t give a complete listing of a particular plant’s needs in their descriptions, making it very risky to order from them.

There are some local catalogs that might reduce some of the risks but in my opinion, buying from a local, reputable nursery is your best bet to picking out plant specimens with the greatest chance of success. Many local nurseries also offer a guarantee, replacing plants lost due to poor quality or sickness.

All this being said, I have to admit that there is always a possibility that if you do order a plant from one of these catalogs, (a species you’ve never seen growing here before) it may just thrive and be spectacular. I know a man who seems to be able to grow just about any plant wherever he chooses.

He has said on many occasions that certain plants he grows have no business growing in this area, but they just do. All I’m saying is that you take a risk when you order from a catalog, of paying for a plant, waiting for your order to arrive, and taking the time to care for it just to lose it in the end. The odds of success are lower than if you just stick to local and native species purchases here in the area.

Darla Menking is a certified Bell County Texas Master Gardener and a Texas Master Naturalist. Email her at

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