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These buying tips are courtesy of the Mailorder gardening association. They are to help you be a satisfied consumer. FOR PLANTS: First make sure a selection is suitable for your climate zone. Most catalogs will provide zone ranges for each plant. Some will provide a map showing the zones so that you can determine which zone your home is in. If not, check with the company, or with your local extension service to determine your zone. Next make sure that a particular plant is suitable for its planned garden setting. Mainly, does it require sun or shade? This information is usually provided in the variety descriptions. FOR SEEDS: Many flower and vegetable varieties perform better in some areas than in others. Read descriptions carefully. For short-season areas, select earlier maturing varieties. Your local extension agent can advise you on the best varieties for your area. Many seeds can be started indoors to get a jump on the season, such as squash, cucumbers, or melons. Be ready when your plants arrive. This means having the bed tilled and ready for planting. The quicker you can get your plants into the ground, the better. If you are unable to plant immediately, care for them properly by following the instructions that come with the plants. Most mail order firms will ship plants and bulbs to arrive at the appropriate planting time for your region. If you need help or have questions, call and ask. Most mail-order companies have customer service people to answer questions. They can be very helpful and are there to serve you. Order early to avoid "sold out" notices. Because seeds and planting stock are produced at least a season in advance, quantities are often limited. For that reason, it pays to order early. If you do not want a substitution made when an item you ordered is sold out, state so clearly on your order form. It is a common practice of most mail-order companies to substitute a similar item for one that is sold out. Usually there is a place on the order form to check if you prefer no substitutions. If there isn't, write clearly on the order form that you do not want substitutions made. Keep a record of your purchases. Having a record of your purchases (names, item numbers, prices, dates, etc.) will facilitate any communications between you and the company regarding an order. The information helps the company call up your order on their computers so they can answer your questions faster. Locate and understand the company's guarantee policy. Usually there is a cutoff date by which a company must be notified of problems or plant failures. The date is generally set late enough to allow you plenty of time to plant your order and observe growth. Be sure to inform the company of plant failures or problems before this date. For complete confidence, order from M.A. companies. M.A. members are established, reputable firms that make every effort to deal fairly and honestly with their customers. If problems do occur, they will quickly be resolved to your satisfaction. Order appropriate fertilizers along with your plant orders. That way you'll have them on hand when planting, and using them always gives better results. Fill out the order form to use when you order by phone. This facilitates the ordering process. You avoid having to leaf through the catalog to supply names and order numbers of products you wish to order. Never send cash through the mail. It's common sense. Pay for orders by check, money order, or credit card for complete safety Read catalogs carefully for helpful information. They're filled with tips and suggestions to help you make the best choices, and to have a more beautiful garden. Larry A. Sagers Regional Horticulturist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office