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 year.
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