Linda C. Young
Green Thumbs Up
Whether you purchase seeds online, through catalogues, or at a retail store, you’ll probably buy too many with no idea where most of them are going to go. Here are some tips to help you get the most enjoyment for your seed money.
First, be sure to understand the plant’s basic characteristics. Most of the seeds you find will be for annuals, plants that grow, produce their flowers or fruits and die within one season. Some of those will be self-sowing or re-seeding, such as Cosmos, meaning their seeds are likely to fall and resprout in the same area the next year, although the wind and birds may relocate some for you.
Perennials are plants that should come back every year if they are hardy enough for our climate. The seed package will give you this information and more, such as whether or not to start the seed indoors and then transplant young plants into the garden after danger of frost has passed, or whether it is best to plant them directly into the garden.
Knowing what you want from your seeds will help you make the best selection. If you are looking for annual flowers to cut for mixed informal bouquets, you can’t go wrong with Bachelor Buttons, Cosmos (lots of different colors and sizes), sweet peas (very fragrant), gomphrena, strawflowers, and small sunflowers. For a fast growing, annual flowering vine, try Morning Glory, but be aware that it will reseed quite freely. Nasturtiums are large seeds that are easy for kids to handle and are great in the edges of containers or along the front of a garden. Some varieties grow as vines and are perfect for hanging containers.
Sunflowers are ideal plants for kids, and they come in a wide range of sizes and colors. I grow some of the taller ones every year and leave the heads up so the birds can eat the seeds in fall, but you can certainly roast them and snack on them yourself. The “Mammoth Russian” variety can get 6-10 feet tall with flowers 12 inches across. Quite impressive in any garden. If you want to try a lot of different flowering annuals, look for variety packs or go in with a neighbor and share.
Vegetable seeds can take a bit more thought, and many of them, like tomatoes and peppers, will need to be started indoors, to be transplanted as small plants (seedlings) when the weather and the soil warms up. Beans, peas, beets, carrots, radishes, lettuce, spinach, other leafy greens are some vegetables that are most often planted directly into the ground. Again, the seed package will give you important information about when and how to plant the seeds.
One advantage to buying seeds is that you can find a wider variety of some plants, as it isn’t practical for nurseries to grow and offer seedlings of too many different varieties. There are a lot of varieties of winter and summer squash, pumpkins (including white and blue-gray ones), melons and peppers, and an almost endless selection of tomatoes, with names like “Moonglow,” “Green Zebra” and “Sunray.” I am happy to report that last year I found a lot more heirloom tomato seedlings available in nurseries than in the past, so if you don’t want to do the work with seedlings, you can still find some great, old-fashioned tomatoes.
Most seed catalogues also offer seed-starting systems, including trays, pots, planting blocks, heaters, lights, etc. The most important things about starting seeds is that they should go in a light, well-drained potting medium, not dirt from your garden, and that they need heat, water, and light. When they sprout, you’ll want to rotate your pots or trays to keep them from getting leggy and leaning towards the light source. The planting blocks, pre-formed plugs of potting medium, are nice because they make it easier to transplant later. Seedling roots can be pretty delicate and you don’t want to over-handle them when the time comes to put them outside. You will want to give them a period of “hardening off,” where they spend a little time outside each day, out of direct sun and wind at first, so they don’t die from the shock of going from your warm house out into the cruel world.
Seeds can be a great investment and a way to try a lot of new varieties, just be prepared to start them inside, if that’s what is recommended, and give them a lot of TLC before they go into the garden.