Help someone get ahead of a potential shortage by gifting seeds now.

Christmas snuck up on me this year, so you’ll have to be quicker than usual about acting on these suggestions and getting gifts for the gardener in your life.

If you order something from a catalog company, even a Maine catalog, it won’t arrive in time for the holiday. That means you are going to have to shop – maybe with curbside pickup – from a physical, local store. For gardeners, a nursery or garden center is probably the best choice. So much the better – the people at those businesses know plants and what is needed to grow them, plus the money stays in Maine.

Here’s an idea: Look back to last spring when the lockdown started, and Mainers who had not gardened for years (if they ever had) took an interest in beautifying their yards and perhaps producing some food. “Everyone wanted to garden, and all the seeds were sold out,” Melissa Higgins of Sprague’s Nursery and Garden Center in Bangor recalled.

As a result, Sprague’s already has seeds in stock for planting next spring – which they usually don’t do this early. She thinks they would make an excellent gift, or at the least, stocking stuffers.

Jeff O’Donal of O’Donal’s Nursery in Gorham is taking that idea a step further at McSherry’s Nursery in Center Conway, New Hampshire, which he bought about a year ago. The nursery is selling starter flats with 32 cells with potting soil and seeds ready to start growing later this winter (indoors under grow lights) or early in the spring, depending on what is planted. The flat could be filled with all one type of plant, like lettuce or tomatoes, O’Donal said, or a mix. He even suggested sunflowers.

Kelly Tarbox of Springvale Nursery has a similar idea. Many people last spring were building raised beds and needed topsoil or compost to create them. The high demand often meant a long wait to get deliveries. “If you give them a gift certificate for compost or loam, they will be at the head of the line for delivery next spring,” she said.

What home gardener wouldn’t like a bit of customized knowledge from an expert actually visiting their garden? Tom Estabrook of Estabrook’s in Yarmouth, Hannah Ward of Roosevelt Trail Garden Center in Windham and O’Donal all suggested gift certificates for a professional to go to the recepient’s home and offer ideas for improving their garden. Depending on how much the gift giver is willing to spend, a consultation gift certificate can be expanded to include plants and actual physical work.

Everyone I spoke with for this column recommended gift certificates of any kind. The downside is that there will be no beautifully wrapped box to open. But there’s a workaround: You can order gift certificates online with no contact at all, print them out and wrap them yourself. With a gift certificate, recipients choose for themselves what they want and, as an extra benefit, you’ll be giving a locally owned businesses a bit of cash to get through the slowest part of the year – well before the spring planting rush.

Terry Skillin of Skillins Greenhouse suggested house plants. Amaryllis bulbs are always popular, and easy to get to bloom the first year. But any kind of houseplant could be a welcome addition.

Skillin and O’Donal both suggested Felco pruners as the perfect gift because they have stood the test of time. “People won’t spend the amount of money for the Felcos on themselves unless they are professionals in the industry,” O’Donal said, “but they will really appreciate them as a gift.”

Skillin said a number of tools make good gifts, including spading forks, which make turning the soil easier. Estabrook suggested gardening gloves, which many people need and don’t think to get for themselves.

And then there are things that aren’t really about gardening but are related to gardens. Skillin suggested a fire pit, which lets homeowners enjoy the outdoors on summer evenings. Higgins said that Sprague’s has been doing a lot of business in birding supplies, birdbaths, feeders and seed for bird feeders. Ward, like Skillin, said interest in houseplants at Roosevelt Trail is high.

And although it won’t last more than a couple of weeks, Estabrook said people always appreciate floral arrangements, never more so than in the dead of winter.

The most important thing is to buy a gift that tells the people you love how you feel about them.

If that feeling is related to gardening, so much the better.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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