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Seed catalog season


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Seed catalog season is here

By ANITA FLATT, Beltrami County Master Gardener

As we get into the heart of winter with shorter days and longer nights, we can shift our focus by looking ahead to when we will be planting again. This time of year is perfect for evaluating our flower beds and vegetable gardens to determine what we want to grow for the coming spring. Seed companies are already sending out their catalogues so that people have plenty of time to look them over.

Some of the terminology used by the seed companies can be confusing as they can use abbreviations or notations that are not always familiar. Many plants have several different names which include the common names or the proper Latin name. Seed companies may develop their own name for the varieties that they offer. The common name will usually be listed first, and the Latin name may follow or be in parentheses. Seed companies will use the Roman numeral “II” after a variety name to indicate that the variety has been significantly improved since it first appeared.

If you plan to save seeds from the plants that you grow, you will want to plant open-pollinated varieties. These varieties develop seed by being pollinated naturally in an open environment. Seedlings grown from seeds of an open-pollinated plant will be identical to the parent plant. By saving seeds from only the best plants a strain can be created that gets better year by year as it adapts to the local conditions. Hybrid plants are developed by using the pollen of one variety to fertilize the flowers of another variety of the same plant. If seeds are collected and saved from a hybrid plant, the seedlings that develop from these seeds will not be like either parent plant. This means you cannot be sure what will develop from your seedling. In seed catalogues hybrids are identified with the symbol “F1” or the word “hybrid.” Sometimes you will even see a trademark symbol “TM” after the plant’s name.

“Days to maturity” are often listed in catalogues, but it must be determined whether this refers to the time required from when seed is sewn directly in the garden or the time that it will take a 6-week-old seedling to bloom or mature. If seeds are started outside, they will usually need a week or so to sprout plus an additional six weeks for the plant to be big enough to transplant. These additional seven weeks have to be added to the “days to maturity” number in order to find the total number of days needed for the planted seed to come to maturity. Conditions such as sun or shade received in an area and local weather can also influence how long it takes a plant to mature, so the “days to maturity” listed in a seed catalogue is only a guideline. A seed catalogue may only list things such as “early,” “mid,” or “late season” instead of “days to maturity.” Carefully consider these “late season” varieties as in our shorter growing season there may not be enough time for some of these plants to mature.

Some catalogue companies will not list the zones, but instead will refer to the plant as being “cold hardy” or “subzero tolerant.” In our zone 3 (or in some areas possibly bordering on zone 2) it is important to determine whether these plants are really for our area. Many “cold hardy” plants that they list may not be able to survive our harsh winters. It is best to pick varieties that you have researched as being for our area or that you know others in our area have grown successfully.

A variety’s ability to resist or tolerate a certain disease can be listed. Tolerance means that the variety probably won’t suffer a disease as much as another variety that lacks tolerance. Resistance, on the other hand, means the variety will get little or none of the disease at all. Catalogues may have a key that explains their codes. The abbreviation “LB” could represent late blight or “TMV” for tobacco mosaic virus.

Seed catalogues can indicate an award a variety has received or their designation as an All-American Selection. The judges from the AAS organization test new varieties on qualities such as overall appearance and disease resistance. Some catalogues will have their own standards and awards that they apply to the seeds and plants they offer.

The book “Almanac and Pest-Control Primer” by Vicki Mattern and Fern Bradley gives many good tips on preparing and planting your garden. Horticultural assistance can be obtained by contacting a local Master Gardener or by going to the University of Minnesota Web site at www dot extension dot umn dot edu and selecting an option to search for information.

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