By Dr.
Leonard Perry
Extension Nursery and Greenhouse Crops Specialist
University of Vermont

The colorful pictures and fanciful names
on the seed packets at your garden center entice you
to buy. But before you get carried away and select more
varieties than you have space to plant, take a minute
to read the packets.

You may be surprised to learn that many
of the flower and vegetable varieties for sale are not
well suited to your location. Others do best in a certain
type of soil or shade conditions or need to be started
indoors well in advance of planting.

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 plants which come up year after

DATE–For best results, buy only
seed that is packed for the current year. The date is
generally stamped on the back flap. Although you might
be able to find seeds packaged for last year at a discounted
price, these are probably not a good buy. Poor storage
conditions will reduce the viability of seeds. So, unless
you know the seed was stored under proper conditions,
always buy fresh.

GERMINATION–This percentage tells
you how many seeds will produce plants 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 number 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 seeds, 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 ten seeds per packet

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