Don’t Wait to Order Seeds

The seed catalogs started to arrive in November. What better way to spend a cold, windy day in January than with a seed catalog, dreaming about the bounty of the harvest to come? The descriptions are amazing: “attractive plants will produce an abundance of shiny bright fruit” … “All American winner” … “high in antioxidants” … “bursting with flavor.” How can a gardener possibly resist purchasing several seed packets after reading that?

Catalogs are for reading and studying, not just shopping. Many of them have their specialties. If you learn how to interpret their technical shorthand, seed catalogs and packets offer a wealth of useful information, including:

  • the seed germination rates (the percent that will actually grow into seedlings),
  • graphs depicting soil temperatures for optimum germination,
  • planting times,
  • days to maturity,
  • how close to plant the seeds,
  • how and when to thin the seedlings, and
  • plant culture, including information like which varieties stand up to summer heat.

All of this information provides insights that help you choose the right varieties for the area. For example, learning the varieties of lettuce that tolerate summer heat allows you to sow seeds at the correct time and plant in intervals. That way you can enjoy a continuous harvest of lettuce throughout its growing season.

Many seed company websites offer instructional how-to videos, covering a wide range of topics. A leading example is Johnny’s Grower’s Library. For gardeners seeking heat-adapted seeds for our Central Virginia area, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Sow True Seed feature a large number of organic, GMO-free, open-pollinated, heirloom varieties of seeds.

Whether you order your seeds online or from many of our wonderful local nurseries and farm stores, timeliness is essential. Don’t spend too much time poring over seed catalogs and plotting out every square foot of your garden before you purchase. The pandemic has created increased demand for seeds and products for seed starting. Placing seed orders early ensures a higher chance of getting the varieties you want and that deliveries arrive in time for planting.

Starting seeds indoors is about as much fun as a food gardener can have in late winter. Check out our recent “Ask A Master Gardener” post on seed starting. And consult these helpful publications from Virginia Cooperative Extension: Virginia’s Home Garden Vegetable Planting Guide: Recommended Planting Dates, No. 426-331; Seed For The Garden, No. 426-316; and Plant Propagation from Seed, No. 426-001.