Learn how to decipher seed catalogs TRUE MEANINGS

By Cynthia Foust

OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer

Now that it’s January, it’s time to plan for spring planting!

With all the seed catalogs coming in the mail, it is easy to get caught off-guard by the beautiful pictures and descriptions of a tasty harvest. The real focus should be, “What do I really need to know to make a great decision for the coming planting season?”

First and foremost, understanding seed catalog lingo will help you to be a better shopper – and a better gardener. Will it be a great fit for me? Will it be easy to grow? Will it fit in my space?

Here are some tips and tricks to understanding the catalogs to make the best decisions:

1. What type of plant is it?

• Annual – It goes through its entire life cycle in one season.

• Biennial – It lives through one winter to complete its life cycle, blooming in year two.

• Perennial – Grows at least 3 years. New growth is from the roots. (Everything is a perennial somewhere, just not here in the cooler Mahoning Valley!)

2. For perennials and shrubs, pay attention to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones. They are based on lowest “average” annual extreme winter temperature. Although the map says 6a for the Valley, zone 5 and lower plants will be your best bets for success.

3. Shade or sun? Light requirements are important for flowering, plant health and to maintain leaf color.

4. Days to maturity - Lets you know how soon you can harvest after planting seed.

5. Hybrid - Grow for specific traits, like flavor, disease-resistance and yield. Yes, traditional hybrids are used in organic production.

6. Open pollination (OP) – Plants with stable genetics, generally keeping the same from generation to generation.

7. Heirlooms – Open pollinated plants that have been grown for years and may have a special story, unique color or flavor. They may not be disease-resistant.

8. Treated – Usually have a color coating that is an insecticide and or a fungicide that is used to increase the seed’s ability to sprout successfully.

9. Organic – Organic seeds can be hybrids, open pollinated or heirlooms – as long as they were grown and harvested in accordance with organic standards.

10. Capital letters – Capital letters next to plant names/info mean the plant has resistance to a disease. For example, LB – Late Blight, V – Verticillium wilt, and F – Fusarium wilt.

11. Amount of seeds vs. weight – This determines how many plants you may get from the pack of seeds. Remember, seed size is highly variable!

So sit back, relax. The mystery of seed catalogs has been decoded. Start your wish list for spring. If you need more help to get to your selections, join us for our upcoming class on Jan. 22 about using and understanding seed catalogs. More information is available at: http://go.osu.edu/rightseedsrightplants

To learn more about catalog lingo, go to: http://go.osu.edu/cataloglingo

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