Dig It! - Seed Catalog Tips
by Sage and Snow Garden Club
February 8, 2007
One of the best ways to learn about different plants is to read the seed catalogs that many companies will send for free (you can recycle them at the Post Office if you get too many). The catalogs are full of useful information, such as soil preparation, when and how to plant, if flowers are edible, how far apart to have rows or to thin plants, how to plant in beds, mulching, harvesting, and trivia (e.g., In Italy, basil has always been a sign of love, so if a man gives a woman a sprig of basil, she will fall in love with him and never leave him.)
The U.S. and Canada are divided into plant hardiness zones based on a 10 degree Fahrenheit difference in the average annual minimum temperature. The lower the zone, the colder the region. Your microclimate (local variations such as moisture, soil, winds, and which direction the location faces) affects the plant viability, too. Many catalogs will say we are in zone 4, but to be safe, you should buy plants that are hardy to zone 3.
Other important information can be found by consulting State Hardiness Zones, and Last Spring and First Autumn frost maps. Some catalogs that carry seeds and plants adapted to the Wyoming climate include High Country Gardens (especially for drought tolerant plants), Johnny’s Seeds (also lots of gardening advice and pictures), and Seeds Trust (high altitude gardening). The Sage and Snow Garden Club also has a list of plants that are suited to the Pinedale area.
Some seed companies specialize in smaller amounts of seeds or you might consider splitting an order with a friend and sharing your seeds so you can have access to more varieties and less waste. Remember when sowing, avoid placing the seeds too close together because in the end, you will have to thin them.
Decide whether to try heirloom plant seeds or hybrid seeds. An heirloom seed comes from the old, genetically "un-altered" plant varieties which reproduce through open-pollination (wind, rain and/or insects) and will come true to type from seed through succeeding generations. Usually for a plant to be considered an heirloom, it must be at least 50 years old. Many heirlooms are native, but some were brought to the U.S. by immigrants. Knowing the history of a particular variety can add to the enjoyment of growing and eating it.
Hybrid plants come from cross-breeding parents of different genetic makeup to produce offspring with favorable characteristics from both parents. Such plants often produce higher yield, uniform size, wide adaptability, shorter ripening periods and tougher skins, but hybrid seeds are variable, less desirable for saving and replanting, and many lose flavor in favor of other qualities.
Make a wish list of all the flowers you would like to have, either as seeds or plants. As you go through each catalog, use one sheet and write down the name of the plant, color, whether fragrant or not, whether deer like to eat them, height, blooming time (e.g., late spring, early summer, etc.), catalog name, page number, whether they will reseed (if this is important to you), and cost (leave enough room so you can write down the cost shown in each catalog so you can compare prices later). Next look at your garden and figure out what combination of plants will give you blooms all season long. Total your plant cost and decide if you need to wait until next year for certain items. At least you have a headstart on ordering those flowers next year!
A key factor for ordering vegetables, beside the size of your garden, is how long it takes for them to mature because freezing temperatures can occur any month in our area. To increase your odds of success, choose varieties of plants with the shortest time to maturity. Again, your microclimate becomes important as you might be able to expand an average 42 day growing season (frost-free days) into one long enough to produce those zucchini!!. Many root vegetables, leafy vegetables and members of the cabbage family excel in our Sublette county gardens.
When your seed arrives, make sure the date and year are on each seed packet in case you end up keeping leftover seeds. Store seed in a cool, dry spot until you can plant - do not freeze seeds unless it is recommended to do so. If you ordered plants, keep them well-watered and also in a cool place. Plants and bulbs will usually not arrive until it is the correct time to plant.
Finally, after all those decisions, you have your seeds. Now is the hardest part of all - waiting until we can plant!! One way to get a headstart on our growing season is to start seeds indoors, but that is another article.
The Sage and Snow Garden Club meets the second Tuesday each month at noon in the Pinedale Library. If you have questions about the Garden Club or anything in this article or would like to provide ideas for future articles, please contact the Sage and Snow Garden Club at firstname.lastname@example.org or Box 2280, Pinedale, WY 82941 or come to one of our meetings.