Garden Talk: Seed Catalogs

Air Date:
Heard On The Larry Meiller Show

On this edition of Garden Talk, Larry Meiller finds out how to best make use of the seed catalogs that are starting to appear in mailboxes.

Featured in this Show

  • Seed Catalogs Brighten Winter Days For Gardeners

    With a good snow cover over much of the state, and arctic temperatures on the way, there’s really not much to do out in the garden. But that means it’s a perfect time to think about, and plan for next year’s garden.

    Nothing gives a gardener more of a sense of hope and anticipation in the middle of winter like those gorgeous seed catalogs arriving in the mailbox. It’s a great time to think about which tried and true vegetable and flower varieties to stay loyal to, and what new and unusual types to try as well.

    Barb Larson is a horticulture educator for UW-Extension in Kenosha County. She said that she’s getting fewer catalogs through the mail because many companies are focusing on their web sites instead.

    That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Larson pointed out that “you can get as much or more information that way. And quite often, I will use the paper catalogs but then go to the on-line site for more information and ordering.”

    Larson added that since catalogs get sent to previous customers for the most part, gardeners can be missing out on fun new varieties that are being offered by other businesses. So the Internet can be of use to do a general search for the flower or vegetable and see what comes up.

    Of course, sometimes a lot of variety isn’t a good thing. All of those interesting varieties of veggies and flowers can be very tempting. Larson offered advice for how to order what’s needed, but not a whole lot more.

    “First of all, I always recommend that everybody try at least one new thing every year,” she said. “Especially for novice gardeners, the All-America Selections are always a good choice because those have been tested.” Larson added that this year, All-America Selections has added regions to their testing, so it’s even easier to find just the right variety for particular growing conditions.

    Whether a gardener buys two packs of seeds or fifty, chances are that not all of those seeds will get used. In addition to talking to gardening friends about sharing purchases, Larson also noted that there are on-line seed exchange sites. But she added a word of caution, even if it’s trading between two home gardeners. “You want to make sure that whoever you’re swapping with, they’re taking care of the seeds correctly, and you’re not bringing in any seed-borne diseases or anything like that.”

    Larson said that exchanging seeds can be a great way to go in order to try something new and different, and especially for heirloom varieties that may not be readily available commercially. “It doesn’t have to be ‘new new,’ just new to your garden!” And the old strains that have been preserved by heirloom gardeners can be very different than their contemporary cousins.

    If some seeds are still leftover, they don’t necessarily need to be tossed out at the end of that first season. Larson said that how long those seeds remain viable really depends on the type of seed.

    The extreme is what Larson’s daughter, an archeologist, has shared about seeds that are thousands of years old. “Sometimes they’ll open these jars in the Mideast and there are seeds in there, and they’re viable!”

    But for most gardeners, it’s a question of whether seeds that are two or three years old will still produce. One winter project could be a seed germination test. Larson recommended putting five or ten seeds of one variety in a damp paper towel. A gardener can see what percentage swell or sprout when left in the rolled paper towel for several days. For Larson, she looks for at least three-quarters of them to sprout for her to keep those seeds for the next season.

Episode Credits

  • Larry Meiller Host
  • Judith Siers-Poisson Producer
  • Barb Larson Guest

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