Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
Here at the Almanac, we love to cozy up with some good garden seed catalogs, especially in the winter months when we start planning for the upcoming gardening season. Here are some tips on ordering garden seeds.
How to Buy Seeds
- Obtain catalogs from companies located in your part of the world as well as from distant businesses, and compare their offerings and prices. Some of the small regional seed sources carry heirlooms and special varieties best suited to your area. We’ve posted some garden seed catalog sources here.
- Before you order, contact your local county cooperative extension service office and ask about varieties that are known to do well in your area. Discuss any specific problems you’ve had with pests or disease.
- Make a list of what you’d like to grow, but check it twice before you order. A pause or two will give you a chance to change your mind. Remember that the garden is actually one-quarter the size you think it is.
- Plan to buy enough seeds to sow them thickly. Inevitably, you’ll suffer some losses (bugs, birds, weather), and you can always thin later if you end up with an excess.
- Pay careful attention to the number of days to maturity included in every catalog description. If your growing season has 85 predictable frost-free days, chances are you won’t harvest a watermelon that needs 120 days to ripen. The warmer the climate, the more frost-free days you’ll have. See our Frost Charts and Planting Calendar based on frost dates.
- Look for disease-resistant varieties, especially if you’ve had problems in your garden previously. For example, when purchasing tomato garden seeds, look for varieties labeled with a VFN designation after their name. This means the variety is resistant to several types of wilt and nematode damage.
- Avoid discounted seeds sold at chain stores. They probably haven’t been stored under ideal conditions, and you may find germination to be spotty.
To avoid wasting seeds, you’ll want to first plan your garden out. Our Almanac Garden Planner will calculate the amount of space for each vegetable so you know how many seeds to buy.
More Tips on Choosing Seeds
- Make sure you understand whether a plant requires an early start indoors or not. If are open to starting indoors, a grow light can be as simple as a fluorescent shop light hung over your seedlings. See our article on choosing a grow light.
- Remember that fast-growing vegetables, such as lettuce, radish, spinach, and beans, can be planted several times throughout the spring and summer so it may be worth buying extra seeds.
- Buy only what your family will eat. Don’t buy vegetables that no one likes.
- Consider the size of your garden space. If it’s small, don’t choose space-hoggers such as pumpkin or sweet corn; select higher-yielding, more compact vegetables, such as salad greens, tomatoes, beans, and peppers.
Show me your garden and I will tell you what you are.
–Alfred Austin (1835–1913)