Digging Deeper

After enjoying the full-color photographs and plant descriptions, I searched seed company websites for more technical information about the listed plant varieties. On one website, I discovered a “live chat” option, and found myself talking in real time with a company representative about my order. What a great customer service tool! I imagine other gardeners enjoy this luxury, too. There is only so much information a company can print in their seasonal catalogs, so speaking with them directly offers a wealth of knowledge.

According to Amy Lynn Albertson, a Davidson County Extension agent, “Some of the best catalogues are filled with growing tips not found in books, including seed starting times, bloom and harvest times, and ease or difficulty in growing.”

Also, when buying seed packets, look to the label for other important information. Whether purchasing them at a garden shop or from a company catalog, the basic information on seed packets should include date, variety, name, culture, and harvest time. While the date may not be an issue when buying from catalogs, some garden centers keep their seeds for a longer time.  Since seeds lose their vitality with age, be sure to check the date and always purchase seeds only for the current growing season.

If you have a smartphone, try scanning the QR Codes found on some seed packets. They direct you to the company’s website for more information about the plant’s culture and care.

Attention to Detail

When selecting seeds, remember to pay close attention to information related to the plant’s ability to resist disease and pests. Improvements in genetic pest resistance mean less time required for care, specifically on pesticide treatments. Choose varieties that are tolerant of the pests in your geographic region. Many gardeners, for example, are familiar with fungal diseases prevalent in growing tomatoes. Varieties with the “VFN” notation guarantee that soil-inhabiting pests will not spoil your crop. When buying flower seeds, watch for the phrase “self-sowing readily,” which means the plant may naturalize and become weedy in a small garden space.

A greenhouse or cold frame is a perfect structure for large-scale garden propagation.

To get a start on the growing season, plant seeds indoors in March. Most seeds require six to 10 weeks to germinate and form a transplant suitable for the garden. Starting plants from seeds may feel a little “old school” since a limitless number of plants are available in the spring at most retail outlets. However, starting plants from seeds ensures that you have the quantity and specific variety you desire. With true hybrid plants, they must be hybridized from fresh seed each year.

Sow these seeds in growing flats indoors or plastic flowerpots. Always use bagged potting soil formulated for seed germination. A cold frame is helpful, but not essential for hardening-off seedlings prior to transplanting.

For more than 30 years, Toby Bost has been a resource to North Carolina gardeners and growers as an agricultural extension agent, a trainer for master gardeners, and an author. His books include The Successful Gardener Guide: North Carolina, North Carolina Gardener’s Guide, and The Carolina Gardener’s Guide. He can be reached through Our State magazine at gardening@ourstate.com

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