It's time to shop for seeds
January 18, 2007
BY LUPE COOK - VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
Shopping for seeds, plants, bulbs and herbs has never been easier with so many greenhouses and seed suppliers online. And with just a click of the mouse, you can also access a wealth of gardening information before you start planting this spring.

Many of the best gardens are planned around the kitchen table on bad weather days as people page through the seed catalogs.

It's January and new gardening catalogs are appearing in the mail. Depending on your gardening interests, plant and seed catalogs can either be junk mail or valuable resources for the coming season. For many gardeners, anticipating and planning next year's garden is satisfying and rewarding. We enjoy seeing all of those colorful pictures in our seed catalogs and feel that the vegetables and flowers will grow as well and are as prolific and attractive as in the catalog pictures. Seed racks at the local retail nursery or garden center offer a good selection of vegetable and flower seeds, but some may only display only a limited choice of seed varieties.

Seed catalogs provide a wide selection of varieties. You can find more newly introduced, hard-to-find or exotic types of vegetable, herb and flower seeds than what's on the seed racks. Although most companies have sufficient quantities of seed to fill orders, it's wise to get your order in early to ensure that you will get the seeds you want. Many companies also offer "early bird" discounts or free seeds to encourage gardeners to not wait until the last minute to order.

Thorough descriptions of each variety's characteristics might include information on flower color, plant vigor and size, vegetable flavor, nutritional value, number of days to maturity or harvest and other valuable tips for a successful gardening experience.

Before you order, contact your local Victoria County Master Gardener Association, located at the County Extension office and ask about varieties that are known to do well in your area.

Don't forget about the Texas Superstars (past and present). The AAS (All American Selection's) mentioned in seed catalogs are also worth looking into. Just make sure they are adaptable to our area.

Cultural requirements such as watering, sunlight, temperature, soils and fertilizer needs are usually described. Qualities like disease tolerance are important to consider when selecting varieties that are prone to fungus or virus infection. Seed catalogs allow you to compare these characteristics so that you can choose the best seed for your needs.

Some gardeners order plants and seeds through the mail because of the convenience, but many do so because they can find a larger variety of plants and seeds that are not available in local nurseries. Most seed companies take great care to make certain that their products meet specific quality standards.


Today, the Internet plays an important role in a gardener's ability to locate and purchase from a larger variety of plants available. If you are new to mail order gardening, here are a few tips to get your garden off to a good start. Go to the Internet and your favorite Web browser, type in seed catalogs and it will give you a list of available Web sites. I used Google.com and came up with 816,000 sites. Some are good and some are bad.

INTERPRETING SEED PACKETS



To help you select flower and vegetable varieties wisely, you need to know how to interpret the seed packet. Here are some things to look for when buying seeds.

Variety: Most seed packets list the name of the variety and tell you if it is a hybrid. Flowers also are identified as annuals, biennials or perennials. Annuals are plants that grow, bloom and die in one growing season. Biennials bloom the second year after planting and generally die after flowering. Perennials are those that come up year after year from the same plant.

Date: For best results, buy only seed that is packed for the current year. The year is generally stamped on the back flap.

Germination: This number tells you the percentage of plants that will sprout and grow under ideal conditions. However, keep in mind that the age of the seeds as well as how and when you plant them also will affect germination. For seeds sown directly in the ground, the germination rate may be about 75 to 85 percent for vigorous seeds. Ones with less vigor may only germinate 10 to 50 percent. If you start seeds indoors in flats under ideal conditions, count on a slightly higher germination rate.

Culture: Most seed packets will contain information on how and when to plant, including the numbers of days to seed germination and days to harvest. Packets also will note spacing requirements, height and spread at maturity, thinning instructions, growth habit and special cultural considerations.

Weight: Unless you are buying bulk seeds by weight, you can be misled by the size and shape of the packaging. Be sure to check the weight to determine yield and how much to buy. Most packets provide information on the number of seed or, in some instances, the length of row the packet will plant. This is particularly important with higher-priced seeds like geraniums that may only have five to 10 seeds per packets.

Regardless of a variety's name and origin, it may perform better or worse than others used in your area. Testing the new, highly promoted varieties against an established standard is the only effective means of determining which varieties are the best for the garden in this area. Keep in mind that the last average frost date for this area, according to Joe Janak, Victoria County Extension Agent, is Feb. 15.

Also refer to the USDA Hardiness Zone Map and the Texas Cooperative Extension Growing Zone Map (located alongside this article) when making your decisions.

SHOPPING FOR SEEDS
January 18, 2007
FINDING A REPUTABLE SEED SOURCE


Deal with companies/businesses that provide:

Customer service telephone number, e-mail or postal address to answer questions, resolve problems or handle returns.
Guarantee - understand the policy and requirements.
Shipping time policy - to place the order and receive plants at desired time.
Quick response - send an e-mail inquiry about their products prior to placing an order.
Detailed information on placing orders in the catalog or on their web site.
Good plant descriptions so that you will know what you are ordering. Additional Ordering Tips

CATALOG DATE? If it is not current, confirm prices first before ordering.

NO SUBSTITUTIONS wanted if product is sold out? State so clearly on your order form.

PROBLEM WITH ORDER? Notify the company immediately stating problem, defective plants, etc.

NOT SURE what you ordered? Make a copy of your order form. This will insure you get what you ordered and help you know who to purchase from in the future.