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Making Your Seed Wish List Come True - Mar 3, 2014

By: Sarah Pingel, Horticulturist & Education Specialist, Green Bay Botanical Garden


If you are like me, by this time you have a mountain of seed catalogs, all of which you plan to go through, diligently making a wish list of the plants that you would like to grow this summer.  All of those bright shiny colors for our “starved for color” eyes to look at.  It’s like a kid going through a candy store!  Selecting the plants that you want can be quite a challenge, only because there are so many to choose from.  So, I have put together a few things to think about as you create your wish list, helping you make that wish list come true.

One of the first things to think about is what you are looking for.  Are you looking to start annuals or perennials?  Do you want to start a vegetable garden from seed? Or a flower garden?  Or a bit of both?  Knowing this will help “weed” out some of the seed catalogs before even looking at them.  Are you interested in very traditional plants- the same as your mother or father had or are you interested in trying something new and different, maybe going more exotic?  Are you looking to fill an empty, voided space in your garden and want to put annuals in as a quick relatively inexpensive fix, or do you want to plan an entire garden?  What are the conditions of the soil that you are going to be planting in (dry or wet, sand or clay)? Are you going to start your seeds indoors or direct sow outside once the weather warms (in Green Bay, the average last frost date is around May 15). Are your plants going to be in sun or shade?   These are just a few questions you should ask yourself before looking at the catalogs creating your wish list.

One thing that always confused me was what all of the symbols and terms meant.  If you are a veteran gardener, or new to seed catalog ordering or gardening in general, or just want to know what some of the terms mean, here is a list of terms that you may want to be aware of, as they often appear in seed catalogs and on seed packets.  Knowing these can help in making sure you are choosing the best “bang for your buck.”

  • Annual- a plant that completes its lifecycle in one year (example: sunflower, carrot, bean)
  • Perennial-a plant that lives for more than two years (example: hosta, daylily, coneflower)
  • Biannual- a plant that completes its lifecycle in two years- often the first year growing only foliage (usually getting about half the size) then the second year reaching full maturity-completing its lifecycle (example: hollyhock, foxgloves)
  • Germination- cause a seed to begin to grow
  • Cool Season- a plant that thrives (does its best) in cooler weather (40°s-60°s)
  • Warm Season- a plant that thrives (does its best) in warmer weather (70°s +)
  • Pelleted- coating a seed with a protective and nutritive casing, making it easier to sow
  • Determinant-a term usually seen with tomatoes, a plant that has a predetermined size
  • Indeterminate- a term usually seen with tomatoes, a plant that has no determined size (it keeps growing all season)
  • Organic-grown or made without the use of artificial chemicals
  • Treated-a seed that has been given an application of a pesticide or subjected to a process designed to reduce, control or repel disease organisms, insects, or other pests that attack seed or seedlings.
  • Heirloom- an old type of plant that is still available because individual people have continued to grow it for many years
  • Hardiness Zone- a geographically defined area in which a specific category of plant life is capable of growing, as defined by climatic conditions, including its ability to withstand the minimum temperatures of the zone  (Green Bay is Zone 5)
  • Full Sun- an area that receives more than 6 hours of direct sunlight each day
  • Part Sun/Part Shade- an area that receives between 4 and 6 hours of direct to lightly filtered sunlight each day
  • Full Shade- an area that receives less than 4 hours of direct to lightly filtered sunlight each day

Once you have answered the questions (there may be more), and have a bit of an understanding on the terms listed, it is time to start sifting through the seed catalogs, both online and at the store.  Start with the companies that you are familiar with.  Know that what is on the picture isn’t always what you are going to receive.  And as the old adage goes… “You get what you pay for”.  It definitely applies here.  Make your wish list, then after considering all that needs to be considered, make that wish list come true!


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