Buying annual plants (and other stuff) on eBay -- is it a good idea?
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on June 30, 2011. Your comments are welcome but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
As Dave's Garden members, there are many ways we have of obtaining plants that are not available to the general public—luckily. We can trade seeds and plants on their respective forums. In fact, seed trading was the genesis of Dave's Garden long ago. There is also a lot of informal plant trading going on all the time: "Oh, you like them? I have plenty; I'll send you one." And there is face-to-face plant-swapping at organized regional get-togethers, where nobody goes home empty-handed.
So far we've been talking about free or for-the cost-of-postage sharing. There are also a few ways that we can purchase plants, seeds and supplies through DG. One way is through the Co-op Forum, which is restricted to paid subscribers only. On this special forum, a bunch of subscribers will band together to buy bulbs or plants, gardening gloves, irises, Super-Thrive or carnations from individual vendors at a substantial discount. Another method is to click on the Classifieds Tab which appears under the products and services tab, which brings you to a special DG Classified Ads section. At certain times of year, you might find a special DG discount, or another will have a sale for DG members only. Sometimes you'll find property for sale, or livestock, or books, or china, but it is most often caladiums or seeds or other plant-related stuff. Some of
| BUY 3, GET 3 FREE VIOLAS!!!!!!|
these vendors are tiny operations, and some are large concerns. Either way, the Classiifieds change frequently, so if you think you might like to partake of that merchandise, check back often. There is a small fee to list an item or items in the Classifieds.
And last but not least, there is the Marketplace! Modeled on eBay and other online auction sites, created after lots and lots and lots of subscriber debate and discussion, the Marketplace has no listing fees and no bidding (unlike eBay) and it is generally a kinder, gentler place than eBay, in my experience. I like to buy live plants and seeds and bulbs, and I've done all three on all of the above places and on eBay.
Now, right this minute, admit it, you're asking yourself, with all these options open to her, right here on DG, why would Carrie sink so low as to buy on eBay? The answer is simple: the variety of annuals! There are only a few vendors on the Marketplace selling live annuals, and they usually wind up being way more costly than a trip to the local garden center or Big Box store would be. But in April, it was still too cold and rainy for me to leave the warmth of my house to search nurseries for early annuals. On eBay, in April, when I went on my last big binge, there were dozens of colors and varieties of petunias and impatiens, snapdragons and coleus, verbena and zinnias which were not even available up here in any color. Buy 2, get 2 free! Buy 3, get 3 free!!! Choose your own plugs from this huge list and I'll have them on your doorstep in 8 weeks, maybe less! If you want coleus instead of ornamental cabbage, I can send it to you tomorrow! (To which I was forced to reply, if you send it to me tomorrow, it will wilt and freeze.)
On eBay they have a special feature called a Second Chance Offer: if the seller has more than one of an item, she can, if she wants to, offer one to you at your highest bid, as a Second Chance. So even though you lost the auction, you can buy the item at your price. Or, if the buyer wants to sell something specifically to you, she can create an auction that only you can see. And my favorite feature of eBay is Buy It Now. The seller sets a price and you either take it or leave it. I don't enjoy the tension of the bidding part, I just like the shopping from the comfort of my own home part, so I prefer B.I.N. items.
In the old days you could check a seller's feedback for the past six months or so, and see that while he consistantly shipped quickly and the plants were always in great shape, it was hard to contact him if you needed to. Or that her plants tended to be D.O.A. and she promised more than she delivered. That's all changed now—you get a combined feedback score with no details, and the lag between when you order and when the orders start arriving (and people start leaving feedback) means that the negatives don't come in until it's too late. It's difficult to learn anything about a seller by the official way, i.e. going to their page and reading the scrolling feedback comments. "Thank you for the lovely plants which arrived quickly" or "AVOID! AVOID!"
Back to my two stories. The first one I am almost embarassed to share. It's a typical tale of getting carried away. It may have happened to you at some time. I started with petunias—they were so pretty! But somebody else won them, so I gave up and went on to somet other chore. Then in my e-mail box I got a notice: YOU HAVE RECEIVED A SECOND CHANCE OFFER! CLICK HERE TO BUY. I wasn't expecting that! I usually bid ridiculously low prices so on the off chance that I win something, I won't mind. Well, once I clicked, it meant I had to pay the $8 shipping fee but she would ship each additional purchase for only $1. She had a lot of other nice stuff, and prices that were really low! For every auction I lost, she would send me a Second Chance Offer! I couldn't go wrong! She and I developed a rhythm, it seemed, where I would express an interest in a plant and next thing I knew, it was offered to me for $2, either as a private B.I.N. or as a Second Chance. The total damage was well under $50, but I'll admit, over $25, although I really hadn't planned to spend that much, especially with a seller I knew nothing about. When I settled my total at the end of April by PayPal, she announced the plants would be shipped within 10 business days, which sounded like two weeks to me. So I forgot about them, for the time being. There was a lot going on.
For one thing, I had come across a most attractive offer. 576 plugs of my choosing for $149! And best of all, a DG friend of mine in Texas reported that she had already had her 576 plugs delivered and said they were terrific, the seller was a good guy, etc. She recommended him without hesitation. So I started poring over his list of annuals and vegetables for the perfect 4 plants (144 per tray) to have a lot of. One definite must was Lobelia erinus; I've never had any luck sowing that myself in time for blooms up here, though I have tried. Another no brainer was white alyssum to tuck in everywhere, yummy sweet-smelling annual alyssum. But what about the other two? I thought about portulaca but that one I can winter sow. So I
| 144 HEALTHY DEEP ORANGE IMPATIENS WHICH ARE BUDDING OUT!|
picked deep orange impatiens; around here they only sell pink, lavender, pale coral and white. And it will combine well with the deep midnight blue trailing lobelia and the white alyssum. The fourth, the fourth .... I thought about ornamental cabbage, but in the end I chickened out and ordered coleus Wizard Mix, which I'm fairly sure I could have grown myself. But no plants that demand full sun, which is good, because I haven't got any (sun, that is).
I haven't divided it out to see if I got a great deal, but I think it was around 25¢ a plug, which is a good deal by any standard. This seller would ship in 8 weeks, since he was growing my plants from seed. So I started to wait. This guy was paid by May 2 and estimated shipping on June 13.
Well, somewhere around the beginning of June, I started thinking about zinnias. Specifically, I hadn't planted any myself, so I must have ordered some, right? I checked back on eBay and it all came rushing back, buy 3 get 3 free knee-hi zinnias!! Ship within 10 business days!!! I didn't remember exactly when I had paid, but eBay and PayPal knew precisely when and how much. It seems it had been more than 10 business days, a lot more!
The first recourse is always to contact the seller, which I did. She answered in the middle of June about how hard she had been working to fill everybody's orders, she was sorry for the delay, my order had been shipped and she hoped I would shop with her again soon. (Not likely.) When they did arrive in the middle of June, the pansy/viola season was over, the plants were hastily wrapped in Saran Wrap or baggies and the "buy 3, get 3 free!!!!" looked like she had maybe put 6 seeds in one little pot but never pricked them apart.
EBay has a buyer protection program which will refund your money if you can't get resolution from the seller, but it must be begun within 45 days, and my lousy memory combined with the lousy seller had just passed the 45 day point. The aspect that made me the maddest was that so many of the plants I had ordered from her were early summer kind of plants, like torenia and browellia. Luckily we were having our typical cold, wet spring/summer when early spring plants thrive and late summer ones never seem to get the weather they like.
On to the other story, my 576 plugs! Up here you must buy your lobelia before the end of May. After that, the shops pot what's left of it up into various hanging arrangements. And you almost never have a choice of cultivar. I knew which one I wanted, though, the one I was able to order from this seller. Yipee! On June 13th, I got a shipping notice and a tracking notice from my plug seller. Oh, goody! When the box arrived, with the four carefully packed trays, the coleus were beauifully leafy, the impatiens were nearly ready to make buds, the alyssum was well-rooted and looking for the sun, but the trailing lobelia had mostly fallen out of its holes. . The poor bitty things didn't have big enough root systems to hold them in place. I again emailed the seller, and this time got a totally different response. He was sorry for my inconvenience and disappointment and would send another flat to me by next day express mail. It did in fact arrive two days later, and this time the lobelia had already started to flower. "Mitch" got a very positive review from me! Now, all I have to do is pot up 576 plugs—how long do you think that will take?
So, don't get carried away—as I did—and keep your wits about you when shopping on eBay! There are bargains and there are items you can find nowhere else. For instance, another seller happened to have the diascia I had been looking everywhere for. This seller was someone I had dealt with before, someone fair and reliable but not cheap. I bought my diascia and moved on, even though he had many other tantalizing plants.
You want to find out how long the seller has been selling on eBay, because you don't want to be the test case!
You want to find out as much as you can about a seller, whether from eBay reviews or just gossip here on DG. Many of us sell on eBay under a different name, or buy under a different name, but I get a lot of eBay tip-offs from my DG friends.
Decide in advance how much an item is worth to you, whether it be a flat of petunias, a rare tree peony, or a gold chain or diamond ring. It helps to know the market price, but factor in the convenience of shopping from your laptop, the risk of buying something sight-unseen, the thrill of having mysterious packages arrive in the mail (or not).
You CAN get great values and terrific finds on eBay, but find out as much as you can about a seller and her habits before you send off your money! I got my diascia, this year, and another year I got my Vanilla Manilla Perilla (shown left), so it is DEFINITELY worth taking a look. But be smart, and only spend what you can afford to lose unless you are very sure of the seller.
ALL PICTURES ARE MINE.