Gardening from my easy chair by the wood stove is one of the high points of winter season. About this time every year, I collect all the catalogs that have been coming in over the past few weeks and settle in for a good read and re-evaluation of my garden.
Most garden catalogs offer a lot more than just an order list of seeds and plants. Some are packed full of useful information on culture and care, what to plant and where, how to use plants and full descriptions of new varieties. Many of the best also give useful information on plant hardiness, disease and pest resistance and soil requirements of the plants and seeds that they offer. Elsa Sanchez and I regularly used gardening catalogs in our popular gardening for fun and profit class.
Some garden catalogs are designed for the specialist and offer all the latest on roses and daylilies or evergreens while others are general purpose ones designed to serve both vegetable and landscape gardeners in the same publication.
If you haven’t ordered catalogs because you generally buy locally, you might like to order a few anyway for background information and new ideas. You’ll find them listed in your gardening magazines and if you Google “seed catalogs” you can find tons of them. Most catalogs are free, but a few charge a nominal fee, which is applicable to your first purchase.
Reading through catalogs is fun. Before you know it, you may have redesigned the succession of plants you usually grow or you may find you are ready to experiment with new varieties and even new plant materials altogether. Even if you order nothing at all, you will be ready when you buy your spring supplies at the local garden shop.
However, if you do order, you may want to exercise a bit of caution and restraint, as it is easy to over order. Just because you have visions of a well-stocked vegetable or flower garden, 10 packages of seeds to fill a 5-by-5 growing area will certainly be too much.
Read through the catalogs and pick out the types of flowers, vegetables and ornamentals you want. Then read thorough the varieties of each type, note their differences and select those that suit your taste, space and garden. As you make selections, double check for hardiness, sun and other culture requirements. Most catalogs have this information in the text of the general description or on a composite chart. You will also find information on plant size at maturity and when to plant.
You will notice that hybridized plants and seeds are more expensive than open-pollinated or common ones. Hybrids are developed to strengthen a particular characteristic not usually associated with that strain and warrant the extra expense. If you are a survivalist you probably want the open-pollinated varieties so that you can save your own seed.
Ordering by mail is convenient. You can often get varieties not available in your local garden center or market. I would say that the seed companies that are on the market now have reliable seeds and are very reputable businesses.
Bill Lamont is a professor emeritus in the department of plant science at Penn State and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.