ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Many of us have had the seed catalogs sitting on our coffee table for weeks already, flipping through it often, but never making a decision. Seed catalogs are wonderful, full of different varieties that you can’t find at your local stores, but it can take a little extra knowledge to help make the best decision when purchasing seeds. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when purchasing seeds:
1) Buy fresh, disease-free seed from a reputable source. Bargain seeds more often than not are not bargains at all. They may be old seeds or a bad variety, both resulting in poor germination rates, disease issues, or low production yields. Often it is worth spending the money on varieties with high germination rates and good production yield reviews.
2) Pay attention to the days to harvest for vegetables. We are in Minnesota and the number of growing days is still short in comparison to other parts of the country. Spring frost free dates in central Minnesota historically vary from May 15 – May 28 and frost is common by mid to late September in most years. This leaves us approximately 120 days, but keep in mind late summer, early fall temperatures and light also play a role and plants’ growth rates slow down.
3) Always read the key provided in the catalog. There are often codes or symbols used to inform you of a variety of information. For example certified organic, annual, biennial, perennial, or for herbs culinary, medicinal, or aromatic.
4) Terms often seen in catalogs that you may be curious to know more about include: F1 Hybrid, Open-pollinated, and All-America Selections.
a. FI- Hybrid is a cross between two different true-bred parental lines resulting in a plant with desirable characteristics from both parents. F1 Hybrids are typically stronger, healthier, and more productive than the non-hybrid varieties. Additional benefits often include longer blooms, earlier blooming, less susceptibility to disease, uniformity, and more adverse weather tolerant.
b. Open-pollinated (OP) rely on pollination from insects such as bees and butterflies, birds, wind or humans. This results in more genetic diversification than a hybrid variety. In general as long as the pollen is not shared between different varieties the produce year after year should remain true, but this is often why if you saved seeds from gourds or pumpkins you get a mystery variety the following year.
c. All-America Selections (AAS) is a non-profit organization sponsored by the American seed trade that evaluates superior new flower and vegetable seed-produced varieties. Plant breeders submit seed of their newly developed varieties for trial gardens throughout the United States and Canada. All entries are then judged compared to the currently best varieties on the market. Award winners are then highlighted with AAS or the logo on their seed packets or in catalog keys.
Take your time when putting your seed order together so you get the flowers and vegetable yields you were hoping instead of disappointment or surprises.
— Beth Berlin, University of Minnesota Extension
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