How Our Plants are Shipped - And Why

by Suzanne DeJohn

Here at American Meadows we ship different plants at the time and in the form that causes the least stress to them — and the less stress, the faster and better the plants will grow in your garden. In many cases that means shipping when the plants are dormant. Don't be fooled by big plants in full bloom at big box stores. Sure, they look nice now, but they'll soon be past their prime. Plus, they are often so root-bound that they perish after a month or two in the garden. Our plants, bulbs and bareroots, on the other hand, arrive at your door ready and rarin' to grow.

Gladiolus bulbs

Gladiolus Bulb

Bulbs, Tubers and Corms Bulbs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and some appear so lifeless it's difficult to imagine them transforming into lush, healthy plants. A flower bulb is one of nature's miracles. It contains one or more buds surrounded by stored food to provide energy for growth. (Some "bulbs" are actually tubers or corms, but they're all underground storage structures so we lump them together.)

The best way to tell if a bulb is healthy is to pick it up and examine it. Healthy bulbs are firm, with no mushy spots. Some types of bulbs have papery coverings, called tunics, that may flake off during handling with no harm to the bulbs. Some bulbs may have a bit of surface mold; again, this is not harmful. Some bulbs have visible buds or shoots but most don't show any signs of life until they're planted.

Check out these beautiful flowers, and their humble beginnings as bulbs or tubers:

Begonia, lily, anemone and dahlia flowers

Bulbs come in a range of shapes and sizes

Begonia tubers, lily bulbs, anemone tubers and dahlia tubers

Bareroot plants arrive in moist peat moss packing material; keep the peat moss moist and the roots loosely wrapped to prevent them from drying out until you plant them. How can you tell if the bareroot plants are healthy? It can be a bit challenging and varies depending on the type of plant. Start by looking for small buds at the crown (where the roots meet the top growth) or on the roots themselves. Use your fingernail to nick the surface of a root; you may see some moist tissue underneath. Mostly, though, planting bareroots, like planting bulbs, is an act of faith for which you'll be richly rewarded.


Peony Bareroot, and in bloom


Astilbe Bareroot, and in bloom

Potted plants: We ship our potted plants in one of three stages of growth, depending on the plant and the time of year.


Coral Bells, from left: dormant (with last year's foliage), leafed out, and in the garden

  • Plants with fresh, leafy growth: These plants have already broken their dormancy and begun to grow. The new foliage is tender, so wait to plant them out in the garden until after the last frost date.
  • Plants with no top growth, or dry foliage from the previous year: These plants are dormant and will sprout from the buds at the soil line. If there are dried-out leaves, feel free to prune them off (as you might do to the perennials in your garden). Take care not to damage any small emerging shoots. You can plant these dormant plants right away; you don't need to wait until after the last frost date.
  • Shrubs with bare twigs: These dormant plants lost their leaves last fall and will soon leaf out again. They may look lifeless, but if you examine them closely you may see green buds. Or, scrape the bark with your fingernail; if you see green tissue under the bark the plant is healthy. Plant these dormant plants as soon as possible.


Leafless shrubs are simply dormant and will grow quickly from their healthy roots.

Happy spring!

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