“Garden Catalogs, Mini Horticulture Guides”
By Suzanne Milstead
Winter arrivals of plant catalogs bring expectations, and many hours of contentment to all of us gardening enthusiasts. We can’t wait to thumb through the mirage of old and new favorites, and new trials of hybrids.
Before ordering give careful consideration to the special conditions of your own yard:
- The most important information to know is your plant zone (USDA Hardiness Zone). The Bryan/College Station area is zone 8b.
- What kind of soil and water do you have? (Soil testing is available at AgriLife Extension http://soiltesting.tamu.edu/.)
- How much sun does it receive? Full sun, Morning or afternoon sun?
What you need to know about the plant itself:
- Is it an annual or perennial?
- What’s the mature size, blooming season, and special features of this plant?
- Do I want to experiment with something new or use the tried and true favorites?
After placing your order and receiving the seeds or plants, what then? My advice–don’t toss those catalogs. They are a wealth of information for planting successful gardens. Place a sticky note on the front of the catalog and list the items with page numbers. Circle in bold permanent markers, those plants you did order so you won’t forget.
However, best of all, seed and plant catalogs put faces to names. Colorful, plant pictures help to make good choices for the landscape and garden along with the description. I really like the new introductions and unique colors of a commonly, grown plant and those designated as All-American. (All American Winners have been tested by a network of independent judges who determined their garden performance was superior, usually consistent and reliably good varieties.) Catalogs may also offer ‘heirloom’ plants with desirable traits for growing. And if these advantages aren’t enough, consider this: seed catalogs put in your hand a mini-horticultural reference. As with anything, beware of descriptions that seem too good to be true. If it claims to grow 25 feet in one year-will it take over the entire garden and be difficult to eradicate? Also seed companies that are based in northern states are usually describing how a plant performs in northern states.
Catalog highlights might include any of the following:
- Time to plant-Planting dates depend on site location and geographic weather patterns. Dates for planting are gauged on seasonal rainfall in your area rather than by temperature.
- USDA Plant Hardiness Map-Present a range of average annual minimum temperatures for each zone with recommendations for spring or fall planting. Variations within each zone are factors to be considered such as altitude, exposure to wind, proximity to bodies of water and excessive or minimal rainfall. Best bet is to contact your county extension agent for local information on planting considerations.
- Starting from Seed-Consider site location, soil type, hours of sunlight and shade, drainage, weeds or nearby trees. Select a site that drains well. Germinate in trays or out in the flower beds?
- Seed Germination– Depth, germination days, optimum soil temperature.
- Controlling the Elements– Watering frequency by hand or irrigation; fertilization, sunlight.
- Factors Causing Poor Results-Impatience, poor drainage, deep soil planting covering too deep, inadequate watering, and planting at wrong time of year.
- What do the Symbols Mean? Life cycles of plants indicated by A=annual; An annual plant is a plant that usually germinates, flowers, and dies in one year. P=perennial; A perennial plant is a plant that lives for more than two years. B=biennial; A plant that completes its life cycle within a two-year period. Germinates in the spring, overwinters, flowers the following spring or summer and dies back the following fall.
- Herbicides which are safe to use with your plants.
- Special Collections-Examples such as butterfly and hummingbird seed blends and mixes usually in larger quantity and how much to use per square feet.
- Additional Information-Latin name and cultivar, description, size, suggested use, range map.
- Disease Codes refer to what diseases the plant is resistant to. A rule of thumb, the more letters or codes after the plant, the better. Usually, definitions of each letter are referenced in the catalog. Example: In tomatoes, “F” or “FF” means the plants are resistant to the Fusarium oxysporum fungi that cause Fusarium wilt.
Catalogs help you make better choices at purchase, but also later when the seeds or plants arrive, you can use it as a reference for where to plan, how to plant, what color to expect, when it should flower, and how to care for them. Keeping the ‘free’ catalog guide helps you become a more successful gardener while saving money.
On-line Catalog Resourses:
All American Selections: www.all-americaselections.org/
Free catalogs: https://www.thespruce.com/free-seed-catalogs-1357756
Ten Seed Catalogs: http://www.birdsandblooms.com/gardening/gardening-basics/10-seed-catalogs/
Pinterest: search for seed catalogs