A seed packet is a treasure trove of information to help the gardener grow a favorite vegetable or flower successfully. I suspect that, like reading electronics how-to manuals, most people just tear into the packet without reading it carefully.
Resist the temptation. Use the printed information as a guide. To be the most successful, pair the packet with a good seed catalog, such the one from Territorial Seed Company, or a detailed garden book such as the Sunset Western Garden Book.
Here are 10 items you may find on a seed packet that will help you grow your garden with confidence:
1. Picture — Is it is an artist’s rendition or a photo? A photo is a better example of what you will be growing than a romantic rendering.
2. Variety — While the large-type description may say “Beet” or “Radish,” it’s the variety that will give you the type of vegetable you want to grow. Do you want a traditional beet (Detroit Dark Red), or a red and white striped one that doesn’t bleed red juice (Chioggia)?
Sometimes the picture can be deceiving, and that’s where the seed catalog comes in handy. Check your seed catalog or a garden book to make sure the vegetable you will grow effectively in our environment.
3. Light requirements — Most veggies ask for full sun, but early-season greens may want a bit of shade if you plant them later in the season. Check the seed packet for suggestions, but know your micro-climate to judge where or whether to grow a certain variety.
4. Days to germination — A sweet pea can sprout in just a few days, but peppers can take as long as three weeks. Many gardeners have replanted a vegetable that hasn’t germinated, assuming it was bad seed or rotted in the ground. Many factors come into play, such as soil temperature and whether you plant directly in the garden or start your seeds indoors.
5. Days to maturity — For plants started indoors, the days to maturity is from the time you transplant out into the garden. For direct-seeded plants, days to maturity is estimated from when the plant emerges from the soil. Plant a particular vegetable seed, such as spinach or beets, every few days or weeks to ensure a continual harvest.
6. Packed for date — Seeds lose their rate of germination and their viability over time. If you keep leftover seeds for another season, keep them dry, in a cool (or cold) place, away from moisture or humidity. If your packet isn’t dated when you receive it, at least write the year somewhere on the packet.
To check for viability prior to planting, test your seeds by soaking a few overnight and then placing them in a moist paper towel inside a plastic bag. Check every few days to see how many germinate. It will give you an estimate (percentage) of germination for all the seeds in the packet.
7. Depth to plant — If your seed packet doesn’t give you depth information, remember that planting depth is usually three times the diameter of the seed. A very tiny seed, such carrot seed, can be mixed with clean, washed sand or very fine, sieved soil, and then tamped lightly to ensure contact with the soil. Then cover the tiny seeds with straw to protect them during germination.
8. Planting information — Your seed packet should tell you seed spacing, row spacing, thinning requirements, plant height and maybe even soil temperature. Look for growing tips, such as “Soak seeds overnight prior to planting.”
If you want to get more plants in a smaller space, plant in groups rather than rows. Just make sure to thin the seedlings so each plant has space to grow. The most important tip for seed sowing is keeping the seed bed moist while the plants are germinating. If the soil gets dry and crusty, the seedlings may not be able to break through.
9. Growing tips — Look for tips on fertilizing, insect resistance, disease resistance and protection against insect damage. If the seed packet doesn’t give you that information, check your seed catalog or gardening book.
10. Botanical name — A plant’s botanical is important if you want to truly understand the plant. The same common name can be given to unrelated plates. If you plan to save seeds from some of your vegetables, the botanical name is critical to prevent cross-pollination.