On Gardening: Tips for savvy seed shopping
Dec 22, 2013 | 5377 views |  0 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Every time I’ve opened my mailbox the last couple weeks, I’ve been greeted with seed catalogs. I’m not an avid reader, but seed catalogs really get my attention. They get the attention of my family as well. As I start making my selections, sharing my excitement over the seeds of a cucumber grown in West Virginia for more than 150 years, I remember there’s a drawer full of flower and vegetable seeds in the refrigerator, and in the trunk of my car.

There are seeds in the bottom of my purse.

The reason I have a surplus of vegetable seeds is that I tend to order seeds based on the pictures. I see something unusual or pretty and forget to read the description or even do a little research on the seed in question.

But this year I’m choosing more carefully and following my own advice:

Grow what you know. This is especially true of vegetable seeds. I have a few standbys that do well for me every year (provided no unnatural weather conditions come along) — Cherokee Purple and Better Boy tomatoes, scalloped summer squash (also called pattypan squash) and Clemson Spineless okra. It is easy to get wrapped up in growing something new. Adding and trying new items is one of the most fascinating things about gardening. But varieties that have produced well in the past deserve center stage. We all like to see the fruits of our labor.

Grow varieties suitable for your region. This has gotten me in trouble in the past. Seed companies offer plant material grown all over the United States and across the globe. But the climate in Alabama is not the same as the climate in Oregon, Maine or the mountains of North Carolina. It usually gets hot quickly here so when selecting summer seeds, be they heirloom or hybrid, look for heat-tolerant varieties. I once made the mistake of ordering the oddest looking tomato I’d ever seen with hopes of having a tomato unlike anyone else around. My hopes turned to ketchup as the heirloom tomatoes grown in the northwest region of the country succumbed to our heat and humidity. Read the descriptions. Some catalogs offer warnings such as “Not for southeast U.S.” Realize that veggies that say “Matures well in cool temperatures” may not make it through a summer in Alabama, but could produce well in Iowa.

Order on time. I would rather get seeds weeks earlier than I need them as opposed to arriving weeks later. Last year several annual and perennial flower seeds arrived a little late and had to be stored for planting this year. I see no problem with planting them a year later, but germination rates do decrease with time — especially if not stored properly. Some companies ship seeds and other plant material at specific times. In a recent catalogue, I saw wonderful pictures of these red potatoes but orders were not shipped to the southern U.S. until mid March. I try to plant potatoes a little earlier than that if I can so buying locally is a better choice for me. Pay attention to the local planting dates, especially if buying live plants, slips, bulbs — any material that cannot be stored, and make sure they ship when you want to plant them.

Share seed orders. I buy a lot of plants locally, but there are some that only available by ordering the seeds. Many catalogs offer bulk seed orders — going in with friends, family and other gardeners will help save on seed costs and spread the joy of gardening together. And sharing seeds is a much better idea than ordering too much. Again, germination rates decrease over time so it’s best not to keep seeds for several years.

This year I have great intentions of saving more seeds from heirloom plants — less money to spend the following year and more plants to share. Maybe next Christmas everyone will get cucumber seeds ... yes, I ordered them.
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