We love our seed catalogs, but beware

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 6, 2017

By Amy-Lynn Albertson

Rowan County Extension Director

With the prospect of snow and ice this weekend, I plan to stay warm indoors thumbing through my new seed catalogs that have come in the mail.

Seed catalogs contain more than just photos and plant descriptions. Some of the best catalogs are filled with growing tips not found in gardening books such as germination, starting times, bloom and harvest times, and ease or difficulty of growing. Many catalogs include great recipes, too.

The tools and books offered in seed catalogs are usually top-notch. Most seed companies put their entire catalog inventories on their Web sites, so if you prefer to shop online, you can do so.

When perusing catalogs, the language often combines marketing with solid information. As a result, you can expect some jargon and common euphemisms in the mix. Here is a sampling of catalog phrases and their likely meanings:

Start seeds indoors describes seeds that require more care than the average. They may germinate slowly or need warmer temperatures, or seedlings may demand extra time or attention prior to planting outdoors. Many perennials fall into this category.

When a vegetable is labeled novel or unusual or has unique color or shape, you know flavor and texture are secondary. Similarly, giant is a clue to vegetables that are grand in size, but perhaps better mounted above the fireplace than tossed into a winter stew.

Watch out for anything vigorous. It implies that the vine, shrub or vegetable in question is ready and able to out-compete most plants in its path. If space is limited, look for compact, bush or dwarf varieties.

Plants that self-sow readily are usually annuals and biennials that you plant once and have evermore. Each year a new crop of seeds germinates and grows without any help from you. Depending on the plant and your attitude, it might become a weed or a favorite companion.

Always order your seed from reputable seed companies. Bargain seed at a local hardware store may be more of a bargain than you counted on because they were probably packaged for the previous year or earlier. Make sure you check the seed packet to ensure it was packaged for 2017.

Here are four seed catalogs I like to window shop in:

Sow True Seed (www.sowtrueseed.com) is a great resource for organic gardeners. Sow True Seed is a North Carolina company that specializes in open pollinated, heirloom, and USDA Organic seeds. They offer a huge selection, including several new introductions, as well as planting and seed saving guides.

W. Atlee Burpee & Co. (www.burpee.com) is the granddaddy of seed catalogs. Burpee has been selling seeds via mail for over 130 years. This comprehensive resource is packed with new introductions, many of them Burpee exclusives. There are also thousands of vegetable, herb and flower seed varieties as well as seedling plants and summer bulbs.

Park Seed Co. (www.ParkSeed.com) sells way more than just seeds. Park Seed Co. tests more than 2,000 new varieties of flowers and vegetables each year. The ones with the best results make it into their catalog.

Johnny’s Selected (www.johnnyseeds.com ) specializes in cold-tolerant vegetable, herb, and flower seeds that are flavorful, disease resistant and good producers.

A word of caution: Don’t forget that winter daydreaming can result in a summertime burden. Resist the temptation to choose more than you can actually manage in your home garden. For more information and recommendations, on seed varieties or other horticultural topics, contact the Rowan County Extension office by phone at 704-216-8970 or on the web at rowan.ces.ncsu.edu