Select the Right Cultivar of Seed for Your Garden

The horticulture team at Iowa State University continues the quickinar videos with a look at cultivar selection

April 29, 2020, 10:24 am | Ruth Litchfield, Sarah Francis, Cynthia Haynes

AMES, Iowa – The soil temperature is approaching that ideal time to begin planting your garden. This week’s Sow Grow Eat and Keep quickinar video from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach discusses how to select your seed. One of the most important decisions to make when gardening is selecting the appropriate variety or cultivar (cultivated variety) of fruits and vegetables.

Most of the annual and perennial plants sold for the edible garden are cultivars. Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, McIntosh, and Fuji are all cultivars of apple. This means they were selected or bred for some distinguishing characteristic like fruit color, fruit size, taste, disease resistance or overall plant habit.

planting seedlings in garden.Home gardeners should select cultivars for their garden that match the site (hardiness zone, sun and soil conditions), cultural practices and preferences of the gardener. For example, one gardener may prefer to grow Brandywine tomatoes because of their taste while a neighboring gardener may prefer to grow Roma tomatoes for processing into salsa or other sauces.

For best results, when selecting seed or plants, select a cultivar that grows best in Iowa. This is particularly important when you are considering perennial produce such as asparagus, blackberries, raspberries, rhubarb or strawberries. Whereas the wrong cultivar of vegetable seed will potentially lead to a crop failure for one year, the wrong cultivar of a perennial plant may adversely affect your produce over multiple years.

Before selecting a fruit cultivar for your garden, check whether it is desirable for the various growing zones in the state. The ISU Extension and Outreach publication “Fruit Cultivars for Iowa” includes the season of fruiting, growing zone and use of a variety of fruits including blackberries, blueberries, gooseberries, grapes, raspberries and strawberries. Although your plants will not produce fruit this year, you will have fresh fruit in your garden for years to come.

If you are considering asparagus, now is the time! The best time to plant asparagus is April and early May. Be patient; it usually takes about three years before asparagus matures and is ready for harvest. See the ISU Extension and Outreach publication “Asparagus in the Home Garden” for more information on cultivars for Iowa.

Spring is also the best time to plant rhubarb in Iowa. Cultivars with red stalks appropriate for Iowa gardens include Canada Red, Crimson Red, McDonald and Valentine. A green stalked cultivar good for Iowa gardens is Victoria. See the publication “Rhubarb in the Home Garden” for more information on growing rhubarb. 

ISU Extension and Outreach will be hosting weekly Sow, Grow, Eat and Keep quickinars. These quickinars will be 5-15 minute online lessons of seasonally appropriate topics for the garden, food preparation and food preservation. Some of the upcoming topics include:

  • Container gardening.
  • Cool weather crops (lettuce, spinach, peas).
  • Freezer jams (rhubarb/strawberry).
  • Scouting for garden pests.
  • Tilling and watering basics.
  • Produce food safety.

For additional resources and publications referred to in this article, visit Send your food or garden questions to


Original photo: Planting a garden.

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