For The Associated Press
People often stare in disbelief when I suggest buying a plant from a nursery thousands of miles away. Surely no plant could survive such a journey!
Not so. This time of year, trucks and airplane holds are filled with plants on the move. If shipped from reputable nurseries, they thrive as well as plants purchased locally.
Mail-order plants are shipped either potted or bare root. "Bare root" sounds brutal, but plants do fine shipped this way if handled properly by the nursery and you.
The nursery's job is to dig the plants while they are leafless, except in the case of small evergreens, then keep them cool with their roots swathed in moist peat, sawdust, shredded newspaper or other moist, spongy material. Years ago, I received a small, bare-root bush cherry plant that had been just tossed into a plastic bag; no wonder it never grew.
Your job is to unpack any bare-root plant soon after its arrival, check that the roots are still moist, then put it in the ground posthaste. If you cannot plant immediately, keep the plant cool and moist by putting it in your refrigerator with its roots wrapped in plastic, or by temporarily planting it in a shallow hole at a shady, moist location.
Potted plants can go longer before being planted out in their permanent location -- as long as you keep the potting soil moist. The nursery's job, in this case, is to pack the plants to arrive at your doorstep with their stems undamaged and their soil intact.
Some nurseries have mastered the art of packing and shipping live plants. Opening a shipping box of their neatly nestled, happy plants gladdens any plant lover's eyes.