How to select seeds for your garden

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garden seeds

Seed catalogs have been arriving. The weather has been slowly and subtly changing. The signs are clear — it’s time to start planning for your vegetable garden.

Seed suppliers

It’s not bad to have options, but it can be overwhelming. While options allow you to choose the best seeds for your needs, they can also present more opportunities to lead you astray.

When purchasing seeds for your garden, the first thing you need to consider is the supplier. For home gardeners, the best seed suppliers to buy from are small, regionally-based companies that offer traditional varieties known to thrive in your USDA hardiness zone. While you can buy from national companies with a larger selection of seeds available that can grow in many hardiness zones, buying seeds suited specifically for your growing conditions will likely make your garden more bountiful. Plus, buying locally takes some of the guesswork out of which varieties to avoid. Regional seed suppliers are less likely to offer varieties unsuited to your growing conditions.

Choosing seed varieties

Once you’ve determined the seed supplier you will purchase your seeds from, you need to evaluate the growing conditions in your garden to select the right varieties of seeds. This starts with pinpointing your USDA hardiness zone. Once you’ve determined which hardiness zone you live in, find seeds that are recommended for it. When a plant is listed for a specific hardiness zone, this means it can withstand the typical temperatures and humidity of your region. However, not all plants listed for your hardiness zone will have the same temperature threshold. Some plants may have a much wider temperature range than others and some plants may be able to handle cold exposure for longer periods of time. These are traits you need to pay attention to before planting, but determining the hardiness zone is a good starting point.

Along with temperature and humidity tolerance, you also need to consider the required light exposure, soil type, soil moisture and length of the growing season of the seeds you may potentially buy. Choosing varieties best suited to the naturally occurring conditions in your garden will make your life easier.

Traits generally listed in catalogs:

Light requirements. Seed catalogs will tell whether a particular variety requires full sun, part shade or full shade

Growing season. Before purchasing seed you will know how many days are required fro a plant variety to complete its life cycle. By comparing a seed’s days to maturity to the number of days in your growing season, you can determine whether to start seeds indoors, plant seeds outdoors or to choose another variety with a  shorter life cycle. You can figure out how long your growing season lasts by counting the number of frost-free days you have on average each year — the number of days between the last frost in spring and the first frost in fall.

Soil requirements. Preferred soil type and moisture may not always be listed in a seed catalog, so you may have to do additional research to determine whether or not your garden soil is suited to certain seed varieties.

Other seed considerations

GMO. There are no GMO seeds available to home gardeners. In fact, there are only 10 genetically crops that are commercially available. These include squash, cotton, soybean, corn, papaya, alfalfa, sugar beets, canola, potatoes and apples. Seed companies are using the non-GMO label as a marketing technique, but there is no added value in purchasing “non-GMO” seeds for your garden. Every seed available fits in that category.

Hybrid seeds. These seeds are the result of controlled breeding. It is not the same as developing a GMO. Scientists use intentional breeding to focus on traits such as disease resistance, higher yields, drought tolerance and larger fruit. The downside to hybrid seeds is that you can’t save them because they aren’t stable enough to continue the same traits generation after generation.

Heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds are from naturally pollinated plants developed outside of the commercial horticulture industry that usually have a historical or cultural significance. You can save seeds from these plants.

For more on heirloom seeds, read Grow history: plant heirloom fruits and vegetables.

Beware of invasive spices

Be cautious of buying plants that claim “No pests! Easy care! Fast growing!” These claims can be signs that a plant is invasive. Check your state department of natural resources’ invasive list before buying seeds that make any of these red-flag claims.

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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s online content producer. Raised in Portage County, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and outdoor recreation.

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