As a gardener, I get giddy this time of year when seed catalogs start arriving in my mailbox. I spend hours fantasizing about what I'll plant in this year's garden. But those seed catalogs can be overwhelming because they are filled with jargon and so many choices. So, let's demystify the seed catalog buying experience.
4 Tips for Seed Catalog Shopping
1. Learn the lingo.
While browsing seed catalogs you'll encounter some lingo that may be unfamiliar.
- "Days to maturity" means the number of days from when you sow the seed in the ground to when you will see mature fruit. This is not the number of days until you will have ripe fruit.
- You'll see an alphabet soup of letters regarding the plant's disease and pest resistance. As a (perhaps overly) general rule, the more letters the better.
- Is the plant a hybrid? In other words, is it the product of the cross-pollination of two species? Look for F1 to designate a hybrid. You may also see Hb or F2 to designate a hybrid.
- "Open pollinated" means that the plant will "breed true." In other words, if you have bought and planted the same variety of seed year after year it will be the same each year. This is different from hybrids which are bred to be different each year.
- Is the seed an heirloom variety? An heirloom variety is an old variety. I often think of it as a variety that my grandmother might remember. Many gardeners favor heirlooms for their unique color, texture, and flavors.
- What's the difference between indeterminate and determinate? Indeterminate plants will keep growing throughout the season. They usually have to be staked to support their growth. Determinate plants will grow for a specific amount of time and then stop for the season.
2. Narrow down your choices.
You know the old real estate maxim: location, location, location. My friend who lives in southern Florida loves kale, but it doesn't grow well in her garden because it wilts in the hot summer sun. But in my New England garden I can grow it in ample supply from early spring to late fall.
Also, consider your values. If you're like me, growing organic produce is a high priority, so I aim to buy only organic seed. Is non-GMO important to you? Then look for seeds that support your values.
3. Focus on your strengths.
What did you successfully grow last year? For me, I had a lot of luck with heirloom tomatoes. So, this year I'll be buying the same heirloom varieties that I grew last year as well as a couple new ones to try.
If you're brand new to gardening, consult friends and neighbors to learn what they have luck with. If your neighbor tells you that his crop of sweet potatoes was destroyed by whitefly then you may want to avoid that.
4. Compare prices.
By all means, dream big, but be realistic too. When you buy a new car or home appliance chances are that you don't run out and purchase the first one you see. You research makes and models and compare prices. The same is true for seed catalog shopping. Be sure to factor in shipping fees and delivery dates into your buying decision.
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