The bulbs I plant in fall used to depend on what’s in stock when the clearance sales start. I’ve found I need to either spend more money for must-haves on my list, or be willing to rethink my planting plans on the fly. After-Thanksgiving sale dates mean I often end up planting with snowflakes flying. Now, I plan ahead and put together group bulb buys in June. I’m planting the bulbs I want, when I want!

close-up of bright blue bloomsPromise yourself great savings without insanity. Get your toes wet before you jump in. If you haven’t orchestrated a group buy before, try out the process by splitting a bulk order of something non-perishable, like gloves or marking pens or moisture crystals. If you haven’t personally dealt with a vendor before, making an initial order on your own behalf will make you more comfortable about offering their “great deal” to others. I ordered a couple of bulk bags from ADR Bulbs one fall. They've now supplied 4 group buys for our group of Mid-Atlantic DGers, and we're putting together another order now.

Let’s talk money. The total dollar amount of the group buy should be a number you’re comfortable putting on your credit card. If you order without pre-selling every bulb, be prepared to pick up extras on your tab if you can’t sell them off. Most companies will not charge your card until bulbs ship, although some will offer an additional discount if you pay up front.

Ice FolliesMost suppliers offer significant discounts for buying in bulk – bags of bulbs rather than baggies. Take a look at the online catalogs for the DG Garden Watchdog Top 5 suppliers: Brent & Becky’s, van Engelen, Colorblends, Old House Gardens, and Easy to Grow Bulbs, and you’ll see the possibilities for quantity discounts. You’ll also like the bulk savings available from our own "Bleek" at Touch of Nature. Take advantage of pre-season sales or free shipping offers. If you don’t see any sale offers, ask! For larger orders, it may be worth looking for a wholesale supplier such as ADR Bulbs or Pacific Callas.

“Buy more, save more” tempts us to buy more than we intended, in terms of money, space, or the time needed for planting. It’s a good idea to do a “reality check” before finalizing your group purchase, letting people see just how many bulbs they have purchased and what their costs will be. I track our orders on a private spreadsheet and send Dmails with invoices or at least estimated totals. Using Google Spreadsheets can let everybody in the group access the numbers as the orders pile up. Keep a version of the spreadsheet on your own computer, too. Backing up information can prevent a lot of potential headache and heartache.

Be an active participant in your group buy! Your pay-off for organizing the group purchase is getting the good deal and also getting the bulbs YOU really want for your garden. “Talk up” the bulbs you want to see included, and remember to reserve some for yourself! I start off our buys with a list of my top picks. If at least a couple of people were interested in adding a particular variety, or one person was willing to commit to at least half the bag, it got added to the list. Make it clear that varieties that don’t sell out will be dropped. Post on the order thread regularly, keep your spreadsheet up to date, and remind people about which bulbs are still available. Before you know it, you’ll be placing your pre-season order!

N. Fragrant Rose adds rare color and sweet scentMinnow daffodil, cheap enough to plant a whole shoalTahiti, my favorite sweet-smelling double daff

Before the actual delivery hits you like a ton of, well, bulbs, you have time to take care of a few things. With a pre-season bulb purchase, take advantage of having several months before the delivery date to get organized, a step at a time. Don’t procrastinate, unless you thrive on stress, and not even then.Tulipa turkistanica 'Tarda', adds a delicate wildflower look

Once you’ve finalized your order with the vendor, you can send out “final” invoices. . If you use Google or another accessible spreadsheet, you’ll still avoid confusion by sending everybody at least a quick Dmail with their total and a link to the spreadsheet. Let people know when and how to pay. Keep track of payments carefully, especially cash and checks. If you do everything via PayPal, it’s easy to double-check amounts and verify payments.

Remember to include shipping charges in your invoice – if you won’t know the amount until bulbs are sent, say so, and include a “no more than $x” estimate if possible. Nobody will mind getting a refund if actual shipping is less, but they will mind owing a lot more than expected. Group buy finances are all about communication! With first-time participants, I tell them I realize that sometimes “stuff happens.” I’m really good at working things out, but I need to be kept in the loop if they need to delay a payment or even cancel an order.

N. Cassatta, fragrant butterfly daffodilConsider adding a percentage to the total to cover your expenses. I often add 10 percent initially to help cover unsold bulbs also, so I can order a bulk bag even if not every bulb has pre-sold. Just don’t go over 10% of your total with unsold bulbs unless you are willing to be “stuck” paying for extras. I often send out the list of available extras to friends & neighbors, and our group has been really good about picking up unsold bulbs toward the end. As a result, that 10% usually becomes 1 or 2% to cover packing party supplies. Be clear and up-front about all costs, so nobody is surprised.

When you get an order receipt or invoice from your supplier, double check it against your spreadsheet. Sometimes it takes a little back & forth communication to get all the order details right. Be especially alert if you’ve made any changes or additions.

love the foliage on Greggii tulipsSet a date for your Sorting Soiree or Pickup Party. I have our bulbs delivered a week before our “Bulb Sorting Party” dates, giving friends time to come over and help me sort out some of most of the bulbs ahead of time. Make sure your delivery date is clear with your supplier, also. Tell them the bulbs must arrive by your party date. Due to field conditions, we moved last fall’s packing & pickup party to a later date to be certain all bulbs could be delivered by then.

You’re not The Little Red Hen, always saying “I’ll do it myself.” Let others you with the spreadsheet, labels, invoices, sorting or other tasks. If you’ll be packing and shipping bulbs, be sure to have reliable help lined up. When you’re doing a group buy, by definition you are not alone in the effort! Delegate!

Enjoy the anticipation this summer. With a little planning and good communication, you’ll avoid Delivery Day Panic and revel in Delivery Day Delight!N. February Gold adds early color

Photos by Jill M Nicolaus. "Mouse over" images and links for additional information.

(Part II of this article will run in August, with tips for delivery and distribution of your group bulb order)