From the Ground Up: How to Make the Best Seed Selection
by: Lisa Slatter, ISU Extension and Outreach Linn County Master Gardener
Seed catalogs for 2014 are arriving in the mail. It's easy to over-order seeds and plants from the pretty pictures and claims of 'easy to grow'. But keep in mind there are real planting requirements that should be considered before placing any seed order.
Space. Do you have an acreage or farm? A large garden or just a few containers on a patio? Space will dictate what you can plant. Start your seed wish list with favorites at the top and prioritize what you really have room for. Two tomato plants can be as satisfying as twelve. This seems like common sense but grow what you like and what your family will actually eat.
Zone. Plants are rated hardy by agricultural zone. If you only plant annuals, then the sky is the limit since annuals are intended for one season only. If you're interested in adding perennials, shrubs or landscape trees, make sure they are rated for your zone. Most of Eastern Iowa is zone 4b which means that plants should be rated zone 4 or lower. Some zone 5 plants may be fine in a protected location, just be open to the possibility that it might not survive a really cold winter (like this one)!
Light. Don’t order plants labeled for full sun if you don’t have at least 6-8 hours of full sun each day. If plants don’t receive proper sunlight they won’t bloom, won't produce, won’t be as vigorous, perhaps may become more stressed and susceptible to disease and pests, eventually perishing. Full sun is 6-8 hours per day, partial sun is 4-6 hours per day.
Days to Harvest. We have a fairly decent growing season in Iowa but make sure you choose varieties that will grow and produce vegetables or blooms in a typical Iowa season. Most seed packets provide information for number of days to harvest. One way to extend that is to start seeds early indoors and plant as transplants in the spring. You can even push that up a bit as well if you plant in a cold-frame. Read plant descriptions carefully, some plants do not transplant well and seeds should be direct sown in the ground.
Size. That tiny tomato seed has the potential to be 5-6 feet high, so consider full grown plant size. Mapping out plant size on graph paper is helpful, leaving ample room for full width and height. Plants too compact together invite disease and pests. Make sure taller plants are in the back and/or north of the garden so they don't shade smaller plants.
After considering these requirements, have fun planning and ordering this year's seeds and plants. For questions about seeds and other gardening issues call the Linn County Extension Hortline at 319-447-0647 from 10 a.m. to noon weekdays.
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