Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Choosing the Best Seed for Your Vegetable and Flower Garden by Joyce D’Agostino

Early Tomato "Glacier",  photo courtesy territorialseed.com

By now many of you have been receiving seed and plant catalogues in the mail and the retail stores have racks of seeds beaconing you to bring them home.

Before you make your purchases, here are a few tips to help you choose the best seed for your garden for best results.

USDA Hardiness Zone Map

One of the first steps is to check the USDA site to find what hardiness zone you live in: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/. Just input your zip code for the zone in your area.

Why is this important? Because some plants depend on growing them in the right climate to get the best results. Reputable seed and plant sellers will indicate the zone or zone range that the plants can grow successfully. If you don’t see a zone mentioned in the description, or some that say “grows in all zones” then before purchasing you should contact the seller or your local Extension Service site for more information (http://extension.colostate.edu/publications-2/) to see if that plant is recommended for your zone.

Even retail stores can sell plants that seem healthy on the shelves but are not a good choice for your area. Many are part of large chains that purchase plants from certain areas that may not be compatible with your area. Some plants are left in open areas exposed to many temperature swings and over or under watered. This can be particularly difficult for warm season plants like tomatoes or peppers. Instead of making them more hardy, it can stunt their roots and growth. Once you bring it home and plant it, even if it is then the right season for it to be in the garden it can result in the plant not surviving, being more susceptible to diseases or disappointing results.

Another important point in choosing your plants or seeds is the days to harvest number often shown on the front or back of the seed packet or in the description in the catalog. If your growing season for example typically has a short season of very warm weather, then choosing a tomato that can take months to produce will not be a good choice. See the attached picture, a better choice would be an early to mid-season type will result in harvests in a reasonable timeframe. Tomatoes that are long season may still produce but can do so very close to unexpected or early fall frosts. Read the description carefully to find this information and contact the grower or seed company if it is not clear. Some plants such as pumpkins can take the entire warm growing season to produce and this is typical, however you may not want to wait until August or September for your first harvest of tomatoes that can happen with long season varieties.

Another tip is to plant your seeds or transplants at the right time. Each area has the last date of frost for your area, but remember that this is an average last day of frost and not a firm date. Watching the weather forecast can help prevent setting out your plants on what should be the last day of frost and then having to replace the plants due to an unexpected dip in the temperatures. Some plants are best for the cooler season such as lettuce, radishes and spinach while others do best once the weather is warm and settled. Check for this information as you plan to get the right plant for the right place in your garden.

The following information will help guide you to planting your most successful garden yet!: