The after holiday winter blues tend to set in about now as we anxiously await warmer air and longer days. The idea of flowers and fresh vegetables are on the foremost thought of every gardener. Seed catalogs are arriving and Sunday afternoons are spent marking old and new vegetables, fruits, and flowers to plant. Like many catalogs it can be overwhelming and a bit enticing to purchase more than we need or to purchase seeds we always wanted to try, only to find out they do not work in certain climates or soil types. Here are some basic terms to think about when shopping catalogs and seed packets:
• Hybrid: This is a term used to describe any seed that has been cross-pollinated. An example might be cross-pollinating a drought tolerant vegetable with a vegetable that produces a high yield giving you a drought tolerant, high yield producing vegetable. Plants grown from these seeds do not produce seeds that can be used to plant again, or if you do, it may have poor results. One that comes to mind as an example is sweet corn.
• Heirloom: Your grandparent’s tomato! Heirloom varieties are open-pollinated meaning the seeds you collect will produce plants with the same characteristics as the parent plant. It is like preserving the past. They tend to be less expensive than the hybrid seeds and gardeners swear by better flavor and more nutrition. As a new gardener, heirloom seeds give you an opportunity to save the seeds to plant later. These seeds planted each year tend to eventually adapt to your climate and soil. They are hardy and will resist diseases and pests as well.
• Organic: Seeds that are produced without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. These seeds produce vegetables that are better for beneficial insects. There are many varieties of vegetable seeds that are now labeled organic. Heirloom seeds are organic. Of course, if you end up using pesticides or chemicals after planting, this will change the organic concept.
• Annual: In terms of flowers this means they have a life cycle that last one year. They grow from seed, bloom, and die in one growing season. Some examples that are companion flowers with vegetables are marigolds, bachelor buttons, nasturtium, and cosmos.
• Perennial: This is just the opposite of annuals. These flowers can be planted in places you know they will return the next year. When planting a perennial make sure to know that it will return and to plant it where you expect this. Some examples of perennials are ornamental grasses, lilies, and a perennial pollinator, Echinacea.
• Full Sun: This is 6-8 hours of direct sun. This is what is needed for most vegetables
• Part shade: This is 3-6 hours of direct sun. Most of your lettuce varieties like a little shade as well as peas, broccoli, cauliflower and radishes.
• DR (Disease resistance): A lot of your veteran gardeners will look for this next to a seed order in a catalog or on the seed packet at the store. Anyone who has gardening experience will end up going to bed with beautiful vegetable plants in the garden only to wake up discovering a mass invasion of spots, blossom drop or leaf wilt. It is devastating and makes you question your ability to garden. No fear, it happens to every gardener! Choosing the disease resistance seeds just adds to the prevention of complete loss or time consuming emergency recovery! In other words, Garden ER!
These are basic terms you will find in most seed catalogs or on seed packets. It does not hurt to read and research before buying seeds. The new catalogs and seed packets have amazing pictures and graphics that can entice you to buy for the aesthetic look. It is important to know your climate and above all your soil to ensure you are not wasting money on something that simply will not grow in your area. If you are new to gardening, don’t hesitate to request seed catalogs to be sent to you. They are packed with helpful information and will get you hooked on trying new varieties. They will also give you that exciting anticipation of what next year has in store for you. Waiting for that seed catalog to arrive is like going back in time when the toy wish book could not come fast enough. Like an heirloom seed, nostalgia comes full force!