Even when it is under several inches of snow gardeners are still in the garden; in their hearts and definitely in their minds. Now is the season for imagining, dreaming and planning. What will we be planting this year? Which plants may have to go? What will we add? Where?
Fortunately it is also the season for seed and garden catalogues. Gardeners can certainly while away many a winter evening perusing these catalogues, admiring the glossy pictures of colorful and exotic flowers and the huge, lush vegetables and fruits. Seed catalogs can be very inspiring as we began dreaming and planning this season’s gardens, be they flower or vegetable. And as we eagerly await the planting season it is very tempting to order one of everything as we envision a garden brimming with color and flavor.
I myself have gotten only two catalogues this season, as I have increasingly turned to webpages to peruse for seeds, plants and supplies, and then gone out to the garden centers to make my purchases. But this year, I have actually ordered a few catalogues – as it seems that my opportunity to go out and stroll leisurely through the garden centers may be limited. I plan to spend my time leisurely paging through the catalogues and then maybe ordering a few plants or seeds. (I might add that I don’t have a lot of room for new plants, but it is always nice to dream.) But if you would prefer to cuddle up to your computer, you will find that many of the seed and plant companies have stunning and informative websites. Here are a few to get you started.
For heirloom seeds, the Seed Savers Exchange of Decorah, Iowa have a website at seedsavers.org. Heirloom seeds are open pollinated seed varieties that originated 50 or more years ago. Open pollination means they are fertilized by insects, hummingbirds or wind. The heirloom seeds will produce plants that are nearly identical to the parent plant. You can buy seeds in smaller quantities than from some of the other companies. (You can also request a catalogue, if you prefer on the website.)
Of course there is the venerable Burpee Seed Company. Their website at burpee.com offers hundreds of seeds and plants. They give you guidance as to the best time to plant specific seeds and live plants are shipped at the appropriate time for planting in our zone. A few other sites are Park Seeds at parkseed.com, Johnny’s Selected Garden Seeds at johnnyseeds.com and a Wisconsin company, Jung Seeds is at jungseed.com. These are only suggestions for sites that you can browse for inspiration. Since I have not ordered from any of these companies we cannot recommend or endorse them, but I have purchased both Burpee and Seed Savers seeds in garden centers.
Before you succumb to the temptations of the garden catalogues, be sure that you know what you are ordering and if it is a plant that can be grown successfully in Minnesota. Many catalogues sell both seeds and bare root perennials. Often you may see perennials in the catalogues that you have never seen before – which make them even more intriguing. But there are reasons why you have never seen these plants growing in Minnesota – the primary one being that they may not be hardy in zone 4. Any catalogue that is worth your order should tell you, not only what zones the plant is hardy in but also, the growing conditions needed for the plant to thrive; the amount of sun, water, and type of soil preferred. Before you order, determine where you will plant the plant(s) and if the spot offers the growing conditions needed. Also the catalogue should tell you when you could expect the plant to flower, so that you can plan your garden for season long color.
Seeds may be a better choice to order by mail; but be warned that some perennials, especially wild flowers can be very difficult to get to germinate. Germination rates and purity of seeds are governed by law and should be written on the package – and should be stated in the catalogue. The reason that seed packets contain so many seeds is very often because of the low germination rate. I have successfully grown New England Aster and Purple Coneflower from seed, but only one of six aster seeds and three of 12 coneflower seeds germinated. Most seeds will be good for 2 to 3 years if they are kept in a dark cool space, so if you do not have success this year you can always try again next year.
Annual seeds and vegetable seeds are a different story. Both seeds germinate much easier than perennial seeds and most of what you see in the catalogues is readily available in the local garden centers. However if you don’t want to make a trip to the garden center right now, ordering from the catalogues offers an opportunity to get your seeds in time to start them indoors, which you should do now if you want to transplant them outdoors in late May. Purchasing your seeds now and starting them indoors allows you to extend your growing season, allowing you to grow fruits or vegetables that require a longer season than we have to offer in Minnesota or enjoy blooming annuals sooner and for a longer period of time in the summer.
Even if you order nothing from a catalogue or website – perusing and planning is wonderful way for you keep gardening in your mind during the Minnesota winter.