Now that we have all those newly-delivered, luscious seed catalogs staring us in the face, what are we going to do with them? For many, the answer is nothing. They’re nice to look at but we never get around to buying anything. Then there is the other extreme.
Catalog-crazed purists, once hooked, find it preposterous to think of actually buying run of the mill seeds at a local garden center. Heaven forbid, those are always so ordinary!
For those who are buying seeds through the mail for the first time or for a lifetime, there are certain dos and don’ts that will make you a smarter shopper. Let’s start with the two most common mistakes gardeners make when catalog shopping:
Most common mistakes
Overbuying: Even the veterans are guilty of this. It’s like going to the grocery store on an empty stomach or hitting the buffet line when you’re starving. When it comes to gardening, even the most disciplined can find themselves impulsive. Seed packs are pretty cheap, so hey, what the heck, right?
Wrong! Although seeds can be stored and saved, eventually they loose much of their viability. The best germination rate occurs on seeds that are packaged for the current year.
Buying without regard to appropriate conditions: Buying seeds (or plants) simply on the merits of their beauty and without regard to the appropriate zone or conditions is a common but avoidable mistake. It’s fun to experiment but no matter how good they look in the catalog, lilacs won’t thrive in the Deep South nor will blueberries prosper in non-acidic soil.
The photographs and artwork you see in catalog are as good as it gets. They’re grown under ideal conditions by professionals. In the garden of your mind, the seeds you plant will look just as good. But in reality, your true garden may have poor soil, pests, diseases and possibly shade. Take these issues into consideration and order seeds and plants that are appropriate for your growing conditions.
What you should do
Plan ahead: In order to avoid the mistake of biting off more than you can chew, do a little advance planning. First, try to calculate how many plants you can realistically add to a given space.
Consider how much time you have to devote to planting and maintenance: Even if you have unlimited room, there’s still work to do in planting the seeds and subsequent care. Gardening should not be a burden or chore. Keep it manageable to fit your schedule and lifestyle.
Find reliable catalog companies: There are plenty of companies out there and seed quality can vary from one company to the next. In addition, freshness matters. Companies that offer bargain basement prices may be able to do so only because of inferior quality or stale seeds.
Consider making your first order small: If you are unsure as to a company’s reputation, start with a small order, you can always buy more later but don’t bet your entire garden’s success on an unknown company to supply the seeds.
Investigate shipping and handling costs: Some companies offer a minimal flat rate for shipping, while others base the rate on weight or by the size of your order.
Call before you buy if you’re unsure. Make sure ‘customer service’ is for real. If you do have questions before or after the sale or encounter problems with your order, a responsive service department with real people to talk to can resolve your problem and answer your questions.
Although this list is not exhaustive, it will give you some guidelines and remind you to look beyond the pretty pictures. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new varieties; just be realistic with what you’ll be able to do, before you spend your money.