Now that you have cleared off the coffee table and the kitchen counter from the holiday catalogs, the next pile will be gardening solicitations and more catalogs.
Historically, this time of year was when gardeners ordered to get the hard-to-find seeds, perennial plants, and certain varieties of brambles and fruit trees. Given industry trends the last two growing seasons, it is going to be more important than ever to place all your orders as soon as possible.
Along with decisions about flower color, fruit shape and color, bloom period, and harvest period, a critical element is disease resistance. Plant breeders have spent years (and lots of research dollars) to give us plants with “built in” disease resistance to cut back on the need to proactively prevent diseases by applying multiple sprays during the growing season. In the vegetable catalogs, look for those letters following the varietal name. Each one represents a resistance to a specific disease. Brambles and tree fruits are more likely to include that information in the description or some will have their own key with letters or numbers that indicate disease resistance.
If you are ordering large fruits like apple, pear, sweet cherry, or Japanese type plums, be sure you will have good cross pollination. Most fruit tree catalogs will suggest another variety to provide that. Besides pollination, tree size is yet another consideration. Homes are better suited for small dwarf or spur-type apple trees.
Shipping expectations and storage
Typically, small and large fruits will be shipped “bare root” with some damp packing material surrounding the roots, but separated from the trunk if is a fruit tree, the crown if strawberries, or the above ground portion of a bramble cane. If brambles are ordered, do not be alarmed at what shows up, they will not look alive. The order also is likely to show up ahead of when we are able to plant outdoors, so some cool to cold dormant storage will be necessary. Be sure to keep the root system moist but not overly wet. Any seed packets can be placed in the refrigerator either in a canning jar or in a heavy-duty plastic zipper bag to maintain even moisture.
Just like planting spring flowering bulbs in fall, you have to plan ahead for summer flowering bulbs. This means having them on hand when the spring weather breaks. Summer bulbs will be shipped to our area when the chance of them being frozen in transport has passed, and hopefully in a dormant state. If upon arrival they have begun to grow, you will need to pot them up and let the growing season begin and be ready to get them outdoors when the weather allows. If dormant when you get them, keep them cold (about 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit) until you are ready. The term summer bulbs actually includes bulbs, corms, and tubers; think canna, dahlias, gladiolus, lilies, caladiums, and elephant ears.
About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.