Tips for shopping seed catalogs this winter

Don Kinzler
Forum News Service

FARGO, N.D. — Follow me as we head out into the garden. Don’t worry; the snow’s gone, the grass is green, the weather’s warm and the flower beds are in full bloom.

OK, it’s in the theater of the mind, but what a great way to spend a winter day, and seed catalogs help us visualize it all.

Browsing seed catalogs isn’t just about wishing spring were here. What better time to plan this year’s flower and vegetable gardens? When spring arrives and we get busy outside, we’ll be ready.

Americans have loved their winter seed catalogs since Philadelphia’s Landseth Seed Company published the first edition in 1784. Through history, seed catalogs were sometimes the only link rural areas had with the outside gardening world. Receiving a colorful catalog filled with flower and vegetable varieties creates a light at the end of the winter tunnel.

Do mail-order seed companies take business away from local garden centers? Not really. Seed catalogs and the inspiration they provide tend to increase total market demand for gardening products. Local garden centers can’t possibly stock the tens of thousands of seed and plant varieties available, so mail-order companies and locally owned garden centers coexist quite well.

Many of us buy most of our spring plants locally, but also enjoy shopping catalogs for items or seeds not found elsewhere. The familiar list of favorite seed catalogs includes Burpee Seed, Gurney Seed, Jung Seed, Territorial Seed, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Totally Tomatoes, Park Seed, Twilley Seed, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed and Seeds ‘n Such. Websites of these companies can be found by searching online, where printed catalogs can be requested, or online catalog versions viewed.

When ordering from seed catalogs, the following tips are helpful:

• Order early. Popular new varieties and recent award winners might be in short supply and late orders might find them unavailable.

• Check quantities of seed per packet. Higher-priced varieties sometimes contain only a few seeds, but that might be all that’s needed.

• If the smallest quantity of seed offered is more than you need, consider sharing with a friend or store extras in a lidded jar in the refrigerator.

• Look closely at the description for “days to maturity” when comparing varieties of tomato, pepper, watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber, sweet corn, cabbage and other types sensitive to season length. For example, main season tomato types for our region should be about 70 to 78 days, which is the average number of days required from the time the tomatoes are transplanted into the garden until reliable harvest. For melons to ripen in our region, check for maturity lengths between about 70 and 85 days.

• For flowers and vegetable varieties that grow well in pots and planters, check catalogs for types identified as container-growing varieties. Standard types meant for in-ground planting might become unwieldy in pots.

• Note whether plant types prefer sun or shade, to decide which best suit your conditions.

• Varieties designated “heirloom” are older varieties that predate the age of modern hybrids, which makes them older than about 60 years.

• Varieties termed “hybrid” were developed by the controlled cross-pollinating of two parents to combine their best traits, such as disease resistance, earliness, vigor, uniformity, plant size or flavor. Hybrids can also happen in nature, when bees fly between plant parents.

• Save seed order packing lists each year as an easy reference for the next year’s order, or to keep track of the varieties you’ve tried.

Field to Fork schedule

The North Dakota State University Extension again will host the Field to Fork “Wednesday Webinar” gardening series from 2-3 p.m. beginning Feb. 5 and continuing through April 8. The webinars, held on Zoom, are free of charge, but registration is required at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/fieldtofork. Participants will be sent sign-in reminders with the link for viewing.

The registration website also lists the schedule of topics, which include “Starting Vegetables From Seed at Home” by Randy Nelson, “Growing Flowers for Fun or Profit” by Don Kinzler, “Growing Tomatoes in North Dakota” by Tom Kalb, “Building a Terrarium” by Esther McGinnis, “Pressure Cooking and Canning: New (and Old) Ways to Cook and Preserve Vegetables” by Julie Garden-Robinson, “Staying Safe in the Sun: Insight From a Skin Cancer Survivor” by Brian Halvorson, “Growing a Butterfly Garden” by Janet Knodel, “Growing Grapes in North Dakota” by Jesse Ostrander, “Supporting Pollinators in Your Landscape” by Yolanda Schmidt and “Pesticide Safety for Home Gardeners” by Andrew Thostenson. For more information, visit ag.ndsu.edu/fieldtofork or contact Julie Garden-Robinson at 701-231-7187 or julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu.

Fielding questions

Q: I have a beautiful hoya plant that has never bloomed. I started it from a cutting about four years ago. It always has new leaves but never a bud or flower. It’s near a window that has blinds that are sometimes open and sometimes not. Could it be that I’m giving it too much sunlight? Any help would be appreciated. — Andrea Rud.

A: Your plant looks healthy, which is encouraging, so you’re well on your way. There are several reasons hoya plants don’t flower.

First, hoya, which is also called porcelain flower and wax plant, is a native of the tropics, and won’t bloom until it reaches a certain stage of maturity, which takes a while, commonly five to seven years. Hoya also fails to bloom if its pot is too large. Because it has a small root system, a 5- or 6-inch diameter pot is large enough, and being pot-bound encourages flowering. A larger pot will require additional time until flowering.

Flowering can also be encouraged by letting the plant dry out between thorough waterings. Even though hoya is a tropical plant, it should be watered only after the top inch or two of soil has dried out. Its waxy leaves retain moisture well.

If a hoya that is mature still hasn’t bloomed, it’s usually because it isn’t getting enough light, an assessment echoed by the International Hoya Association. If too much light were the problem, the leaves would develop burn spots, or become sun-bleached. Given a little more time and a little more light, your hoya will likely bloom. Please keep us posted.

Q: Regarding your recent article about the new All-America Selections winners, are all of the flowers and vegetables described able to be grown in our local region? I’m particularly interested in the Main Street Beale Street Coleus. If so, would I need to go to a local nursery to find it? — Mary Gnahn.

A: Although All-America Selections does have some region-specific categories, the list of award winners I publish are widely adapted nationally or at least for our Upper Midwest region. However, I keep a close eye on some plant types like tomatoes, because they might be later ripening than we prefer. For example, two award-winning tomatoes, Apple Yellow and Early Resilience, are quite late for our region, which I noted in my original article.

Main Street Beale Street Coleus is described as having outstanding deep red foliage that holds its rich color without fading or bleaching and the plant doesn’t produce seed heads until very late in the season. Uniquely, it can be successfully grown from full sun to full shade in the flower garden or large containers.

Most of the AAS winners are grown from seed, which you can do yourself, or purchase starter plants from a garden center that has grown them for you. Some AAS winners, however, are grown from cuttings, not seed, which is the case with Beale Street Coleus, meaning there’s no seed available for us to grow them ourselves. Plants will need to be purchased from garden centers that have grown them from cuttings supplied by the originator. Your best bet is to call your locally owned garden center soon, to see if they will have it available.

Q: I know it’s way too early, but what is the best date to start tomato seeds indoors? Each year it seems I jump the gun and my tomato seedlings are tall and spindly by the time they’re ready to go outside. — Tom M., Fargo.

A: April 1 is the target date to start tomatoes from seed indoors. If started on a germination heat mat, or other warm place, the seedlings emerge quick, grow rapidly and will be ready to transplant out of the seed tray and into cell packs or pots in about two weeks. Place in all-day full sun immediately upon germination, or better yet, place seedlings 2 to 4 inches under fluorescent or LED lights.

Browsing seed catalogs in winter helps pre-plan your flower and vegetable gardens.
A reader asks what they can do to make this hoya plant bloom.