You may think it’s silly to dedicate a whole blog post to how to read seed catalogs and seed packets but the most experienced gardeners will tell you there is definitely a method to the madness when it comes to reading and interpreting them properly. There is a TON of information packed into these seed catalogs, and even right on the seed packets themselves, which are all there to help you choose the right seeds for your garden and learn exactly how to grow them.
Here are some tips for reading seed catalogs and packets.
What is a Seed Catalog?
Before we dive into how to read the seed catalogs, it might be helpful to understand exactly what they are. According to greenupside.com, “A seed catalog is a printed or digital book that tells you all about the seeds and plants that a company has for sale. A seed catalog includes pictures of some of their plants, along with descriptions of the plants and information about growing requirements and disease resistance.” (greenupside.com)
Essentially, a seed catalog tells you everything you need to know about the plants that you might be thinking of purchasing (or they might help guide you to decide what to purchase).
How to Read Seed Catalogs
Seed catalogs are a guilty pleasure for me, retail therapy if you will, a fun and exciting access point to new (and old) plant varieties. But they also typically have key information that you want to look for and take note of to ensure that the seeds you buy lead to successful harvests.
Seed catalogs really are their own mini crop encyclopedias and often times you won’t even need to buy extra gardening books because everything you need to know is provided by these amazing seed companies.
To start your seed catalog reading journey, it is important to take note of the legend. Seed catalogs usually have a legend or a key that outlines what their special symbols mean and you will want to take note of this right off the bat. For example, you’ll see little suns or lines nest to a name, indicating the amount of sunlight needed, or watering, etc.
The most important part of the key is knowing which points are important to you and your garden. I feel that you should take note of the following important features of a seed catalog:
- Amount of sun
- Hardiness to which zones
- Days to harvest
- Soil preferred
- Pest and disease resistance
Each seed catalog does this differently, some have a legend, and some just explain this in the caption. What you need to know are your hardiness zone and challenges you might face in your garden (pests, etc.). For example, coastal gardeners often battle mildew, while some inland gardeners have more trouble with cucumber beetle. This is learned knowledge but can be researched as well.
Besides your hardiness zone, another important thing to know is the amount of sun needed and the temperature for germination, as that can’t be changed by you (unless you are seed starting indoors). Also, if something really doesn’t grow well in your hardiness zone (because it needs a certain amount of either hot/cold temps or day length), perhaps it’s best not to waste your time. Search for crops that instead will thrive in your unique, given conditions.
Seed Catalogs I Recommend:
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has great heirlooms and unique seed options.
- Johnny’s Seeds is what many growers use. Jam-packed with info in their catalog.
- Territorial Seed Co. is great for organic seeds and starts.
- Renee’s Garden carries unique heirloom varieties and can be found at many local garden centers.
If you aren’t yet getting catalogs, you can sign up on their websites and will get sent one each season for free!
BONUS, how to read your seed packets! 👇
How to Read Seed Packets
Once your seeds arrive (happy dance!) you’ll want to sort them and browse over the info provided on the back of the packets. Typically, everything you need to know for that specific crop is laid out right there on the packet for you. And being that the information is provided by the growers themselves, they are always spot on with their facts and recommendations!
Reading and listening to the advice on your packets is a sure-fire way to succeed in the garden, simple as that! Let’s breakdown the info found on the back on one of my seed packets.
Taking the arugula seed packet from Renee’s Garden as an example, here is what we can see:
In addition to the little chart of info they also give you a brief description of the crop, let you know whether it should be grown as an annual or perennial, if it’s easiest to start indoors and transplant or direct sow and thin, and some general planting instructions and helpful growing notes.
Jam packed with info right!? It’s basically all you need to know about the crop right there on the back of the seed packet!
Next up check out the best way to organize your seeds (link coming soon!), and the beginners guide to seed starting indoors.
I hope this post was helpful in going over how to read seed catalogs and how to get the most out of the info on your seed packets, may your January be filled with garden dreaming and planning.
Thank you for stopping by, friend, and happy growing! xo, Christine
For more gardening tips for beginners, check out these posts: