Seed catalogs made easy
Tips for navigating through a sea of seed catalogues.
Consider the following description in one popular seed catalogue this year: “A wonderful heirloom, these rounded fruit have the taste of tomatoes from Grandma’s garden. They make your mouth water just thinking about them.”
How could you possibly resist purchasing these tomato seeds after reading that? There are almost as many seed catalogs as seed displays at your local garden centers attempting to convince you to purchase the seeds they sell. So, how do you decide what to purchase, and how many packets you will need?
If you are growing a modest-sized garden, pick the crops and varieties your family enjoys most as well as those that provide the largest harvest in the available space. In recent years, many seed catalogs and seed packages have been expanded to include more reference information. Here is a glossary of terms to help you make sense of all the information provided.
Days to maturity. Typically is found after a variety name and lets you know how soon you can expect to start harvesting after setting plants in the garden as transplants.
Hybrid (F, F1, F2). These are seeds from a cross between two or more known varieties, and are often grown for specific traits like flavor or size. Saving seeds from hybrids and replanting them will not guarantee the same plants in future years.
Open Pollinated seeds (OP). Means the plants were pollinated by natural means rather than self-pollinated or cloned. This process may be controlled using known parents with specific characteristics.
Heirloom seeds. These are usually open pollinated varieties that have been grown for many years and may have distinctive coloring, flavoring and fascinating stories. These plants do not always have the benefit of resistance to disease or fungus as their hybrid counterparts.
Treated seeds. These have been coated with a fungicide or insecticide to increase the seed’s ability to sprout without rotting or being attacked by insects in the soil. It is common to add color to the treatment to make them distinguishable from untreated seeds. For example, yellow corn may appear pink or purple.
Organic seeds. Have been harvested from plants grown organically, without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.
V, F, N, T, A, LB. These letters refer to resistance to common diseases (e.g., LB=Late Blight). If you’ve had problems with diseases in previous years, you may want to select resistant varieties for your garden.
Determinate plants. Will grow to a set size then stop growing. These plants may be better selections when growing space is limited. Using tomatoes as an example, all the fruit will ripen at the same time.
Indeterminate plants. Continue to grow providing an extended harvest. These tomato plants will probably need to be supported or staked and will continue to bear fruit until killed by frost or disease.
Amount of seeds. For most home gardeners, one packet of seeds of each variety will be plenty and will be enough for a 10- to 30-foot row. Seed size varies widely between varieties; seed packets with tiny seeds may appear empty.
While waiting for the right time to plant your seeds, read the seed catalogs and seed packages for the wealth of information they contain. Ask other gardeners to share their favorite varieties to grow in the home garden.
- Understanding seed catalogs, University of Illinois Extension
- Interpreting the seed packet, University of Vermont Extension