Spring is almost here. In fact, it’s in the mail! Seed catalogs begin to arrive during the winter in hopes of enticing faithful gardeners to get a jump on planning their spring gardens. And with good reason – ordering your seed from seed catalogs is one of the best ways to get more bang for your buck out in the garden. Seeds cost significantly less than transplants at your local store, and this can save you a nice chunk of change, especially if you grow more than a few plants each year.
While seed shopping by catalog or online can certainly liven up a dreary winter’s day, you should know a few things before you order. These tips will help you make the very best seed choices for your garden:
1. Go with heirloom seeds over modern hybrids. Why? There are several good and legitimate reasons. First, heirloom seeds are open pollinated and this factor alone will allow you to save your seed, year after year. You may never have to buy seed packets again with heirloom seeds … talk about a better value! That’s certainly nice, but gardeners and cooks really love heirloom varieties because they tend to taste better and produce more nutritionally dense food. Yes, you may spend a few pennies more on heirloom seed over modern hybrid seed, but it’s well worth it.
2. Look for good germination rates. It does you no good to buy a cheap packet of hundreds of seeds if only 60-70 percent of the seeds actually germinate. Look for superior germination rates for the best value and best quality. Many seed packets you buy in big-box gardening stores do not have the best germination rates. When seed shopping by mail, look for information or ask the company about their germination rates.
3. Keep your catalogs! Don’t trash them after ordering. Keep them for reference as you begin planting and for future seasons if you wish to re-order. You might think you’ll never forget the name of that unique heirloom tomato you tried in the garden this year … but you just might.
4. Know your zone. While catalog shopping, look for seeds that grow well in your specific region or zone. Otherwise you may be wasting your time trying to grow something that doesn’t do well in your area. Choose cultivars that have qualities that are suited for your zone. Don’t know your zone? Check online – here’s a handy map.
5. Remember: The number of days to maturity are an estimate. Catalogs typically quote a number of days to maturity for each seed variety. Remember that this is an estimate or a range – not a guarantee. The actual number of days may be slightly different for your area because of temperatures and other factors. This is another good reason to get started shopping now so that you’ll be able to start your seeds in time to transplant in the garden at the perfect time!
7. Watch out for chemicals. If you choose to buy hybrid seed, make sure the seeds are not treated with chemical fungicides or other synthetics. When ordering, look specifically for untreated seeds. (Another good reason to stick with heirloom seeds, if you ask me.)
8. Grow what you’ll eat or use. If you are limited on gardening space, don’t fill it up with things you’ll never eat, preserve, or share with others. Grow what you’ll actually use. I always encourage gardeners to try one new thing each season, but there’s no need trying something if you know you’ll never eat it. Garden space is precious! Don’t waste it. If you want to try something new – go for it! But choose something you’re interested in or know you might like. Perhaps try a new heirloom variety of a food you already enjoy eating.
9. Ask seasoned gardeners for their recommendations. They can be the very best sources for information. I’m blessed to have several “gardening buddies” that I share ideas with. If you don’t have a local gardening friend or mentor, there are plenty of online forums and communities to help you learn tricks of the trade.
Need a great heirloom seed catalog to get started shopping? Try this one. Happy Seed Shopping!