January is for Dreaming and Scheming!
So Don’t get Bogged down in Terminology!
By Johnson County Master Gardener Pat Kriener, a Wildbunch Writer
Gardeners can while away many a winter day with their old friend, the seed catalog, dreaming and scheming of their next year’s adventure, but many new gardeners become frustrated because the catalog seems to be written in a secrete code. For the new gardener, seed catalogs can be intimidating as well as confusing with terms and concepts that seem like a quagmire of gardening gibberish.
You would think that Variety Name would be obvious, but many plant varieties have several different names, with the most common listed first. If you don’t recognize the name the catalog uses, you can’t find what you want. The Roman numeral II that is sometimes attached to the variety name means that variety has been improved since it first appeared, but this is not always stated and can cause further confusion.
What is the difference between Open-Pollinated seeds and Hybrid seeds? Open-pollinated seeds are seeds that are pollinated naturally. The frugal gardener saves these seeds because the seedling is just like the parent plant, and if you save from only your best producers, in the long run you will have a plant that is uniquely adapted to your garden. Hybrids, on the other hand, are created when pollen of one variety is used to pollinate the flowers of another variety of the same type of plant, which can produce plants that are not like either parent plant. Saving hybrid seeds is not advised for serious seed collection but it can be a fun experiment because you never know what the outcome will be. Hybrid seeds are identified in the seed catalog by the symbol F with a small 1 beside it, or with the word hybrid.
Days to Maturity. What does that mean? Over the years I found that some catalogs cite the time from when you plant the seed into the ground. However, many gardeners start their plants inside and move them out when they are about six weeks old, so other catalogs cite “days to maturity” from when a six-week-old transplant is planted. After reading “Gardeners to Gardener Almanac & Pest-Control Primer,” the basis for this article, I understand to add 50 days onto the “Days to Maturity” to compensate for the 6 weeks of growing them inside, and I might come close. Really, these numbers are just a guideline because weather, temperature, soil, fertilizer, variety, hardiness for your area and many other things affect the growth of plants. My best advice is to buy from Texas-based seed companies, and ask them how they determine their “Days to Maturity.” Don’t be surprised if your dates are still off, because the seeds never read the package!
Disease Tolerant and Disease Resistant. In reality, if a plant is marked “Disease Tolerant” then it probably will get that disease, but it will not suffer as much as another plant would. But if it is marked “Disease Resistant” then it will probably not get that disease, at all.
Cold Tolerant, Cold Hardy, or Tender. Many catalogs do not want to classify plants by hardiness, because even the hardiest plants can get burned when we have sudden cold snaps. Any time you see these terms, realize you will have to take a few minutes to look at the cold temperature recommendations for this plant.
The term Award Winner can be placed on flowers or vegetables by the All-American Selections (AAS) which picks annually from among the new varieties available. Some designations have been awarded by the seed company themselves to highlight exceptional varieties that they carry.
I know there are still terms I did not cover, but it’s a start and if you come across other terms in your seed catalog that are confusing, contact the company directly.