Small Space Gardening: Learning to Read Catalogs and Seed Packets and the Difference Between Perennials and Annuals | Recent News

Editor’s note: Small Space Gardening by Diane Dryden is a series of garden articles that will run all summer long with information for both new and experienced gardeners, from choosing a site to harvesting the crop.

Read the 1st article in this series: Small Space Gardening: Sun Patterns and Soil Types

Now that you’ve checked the sun patterns in your area and decided on your planting site, whether in the ground or in a container or raised bed, it’s time to check out the seed catalogs. Or the seed packets that are starting to appear everywhere.

If you’re looking at a seed catalog, the first thing you need to check is the company’s location on the back cover.

If you’re only ordering vegetable seeds, the catalogs are all pretty much the same, regardless of where they come from. Some beans may take 67 days to mature, some 85, but both will do well in northern Wisconsin.

Cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, beets, etc. do not vary much in the United States. Plants like ginger are different. These plants will be listed in many seed catalogs, but unless you check the fine print, you won’t notice that they are for zones 8 through 11 and are perennials.

Speaking of which, PERRIENIALS are planted once, and they come back year after year. ANNUAL plants only last one season. They don’t come back.

I can’t think of a single vegetable that is a perennial. The flowers can be, yes, but I’m pretty sure the vegetables are all annuals. Let me know if I missed anything obvious.

Reputable seed catalogs will give the number of seeds in each packet. When you buy seeds in packages from a store, you can touch the package to find out how many there are. Seed packages rarely indicate the number of seeds.

I found an amazing new seed catalog this year that I bought at a big box store. Regular seed catalogs are almost always free and come in the mail. This seed catalog I purchased is an inch thick and full of seed stories and stories, as well as the smartest seeds to buy and plant.

Unable to resist the description of their seeds, I ordered a lot. Most seeds come with the required number of seeds listed. Most but not all.

They offered their “tastiest tomato!” and I fell in love with the picture of what was listed as “Brad’s Atomic Grape Tomato. 75 days. Big, elongated cherries in clusters. The color and flavor are an assault on the senses in their own right – the lavender and the purple stripes that turn to olive Technicolor / green, red and brown / blue stripes at full maturity. Truly wild! AMAZING! Pkg. $4.50”

It’s true, I have no idea how many seeds I get. After this glowing article about the company, even if I only get 2 seeds, it will be worth it to me. Of course, I also grow regular tomatoes, but that will be my “planter’s adventure” this year.

Out of curiosity, I googled and found that 20 is the number of these new tomato seeds that other growers put in their packets. I also discovered that these seeds are INDEPENDENT, meaning they have no height restrictions, and I should be prepared for them to easily grow up to five feet tall and beyond.

DETERERMINANT tomatoes are about three feet tall and are ideal for growing in commercial tomato cages in the garden or in containers. This tomato information is something else that catalogs and seed packets don’t always tell you at the store, so check it out online. And be sure to read labels carefully if you buy tomato plants from a store or garden center.

A gardening companion is helpful at seed time. If you’re growing in a small space, which isn’t a bad idea for your first garden, you’re not going to use all the seeds in the packet. That is unless you are planning a single culture site.

A garden buddy may be interested in additional seeds. Zucchini comes to mind. There are usually quite a few seeds in a package. If you plant the whole bundle, you’ll have enough zucchini to open a garden stand at the end of your driveway. These plants are heavy producers and grow from a delicate 6-inch summer squash to the size of a baseball bat seemingly overnight. They are also garden pigs that take up a lot of space as they roam where they please, running over anything they see. Two plants are usually enough, even in a large garden, unless you have a penchant for bread and zucchini cake and stir-fries, and you have plenty of room in your freezer.

If you crash too much, you might find yourself driving through public parking lots looking for unlocked cars to split your bounty. If you get caught, don’t mention my name.

Most unplanted seeds are still viable the following year, so don’t despair. If you plan to plant year-old seeds, you can still do the experiment that your second-grade teacher may have taught you. Dampen a paper towel, roll some seeds in it and put it in a plastic bag. Put it in a warm place and after a week unroll it to see if anything has sprouted. Otherwise, throw it away. New seeds are cheap.

I’ve seen resealed seed packets in the Little Free Library boxes and I think this is a smart way to not waste anything as long as it’s this year’s seeds.

If you’re reduced to container gardening, don’t be discouraged. These containers are easily double planted with things like lettuce or spinach or herbs underplanted with tomatoes.

Potatoes can be grown in the plastic bags that once held fertilizer, soil, or pet food. Make a few drainage holes in the bottom of the bag. Bend the top edge several times for stability and plant a single potato (a seed potato from the grocery store) in about twelve inches of soil. As the potato plant grows, cover it with soil until only the top leaves appear. Soon he will be top of the bag.

When the plant dies, the harvest consists of emptying the soil from the bag and recovering the potatoes.

Whatever you decide this would make a great container for planting, make sure it has drainage. If you have broken pieces of these brown clay pots or broken dishes, place them over the drainage holes to hold the soil before adding soil.

If you don’t have the pot pieces, coffee filters will do. You don’t even have to use new filters; recycled ones will do. The same will be true for recycled coffee. It is high in nitrogen, which is good for all plants, but it makes the soil lighter.

Next time we will discuss plot planning and starting the bulbs indoors.

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