University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
HOW TO READ SEED PACKETS
Dr. Leonard Perry,
University of Vermont
colorful pictures and fanciful names on the seed packets at your
garden center and
in seed catalogs entice you to buy. But before you get carried away
select more varieties than you have space to plant, take a minute to
packets and descriptions. There is much good cultural information in
some of which may be unclear if you are new to gardening.
may be surprised to learn that some of the flower and vegetable
sale are not well suited to your particular location. Some grow
best in a
certain type of soil or shade conditions, or need to be started
indoors well in
advance of planting. Start them too late, or just sown out in the
you may get few if any flowers or fruit this season. So what do you
look for on
the packets and in catalog descriptions?
Most packets and descriptions list the name of the variety
are cultivars or cultivated varieties), and tell you if it is a
hybrid. Hybrids come about from the crossing of other plant
and are often denoted as F1 or F2. This
often gives a trait such as bigger flowers or more vigor. It is
important to know if you want such
traits, or if you want to collect seeds.
If you collect seeds from a hybrid, they won’t make the same
plants. For this you would need the parent plants
(often a seed company trade secret). To
collect seeds that will come “true”, you should look for “open
also are identified as annuals, biennials, or perennials. Annuals
plants that grow, bloom, and die in one growing season. Biennials
the second year after planting and generally die after flowering.
Perennials are those plants which come up year after year (if they
are hardy). For perennials, many descriptions have or
refer to a hardiness zone map so you can see if the plants will have
a chance in your
best results, buy only seed that is packed for the current year.
is generally stamped on the back flap. Although you might be able
seeds packaged for last year at a discounted price, these are
probably not a
good buy. Poor storage conditions will reduce the viability of
seeds. If you do want to take a chance on these, sow 10 seeds in
rolled paper towel to see how many germinate.
percentage tells you how many seeds will produce plants under ideal
However, keep in mind that the age of the seeds, how they’ve been
well as how and when you plant them also will affect germination.
seeds may need exposure to light to germinate.
Some perennials may need special seed treatments prior to sowing.
If you start seeds indoors in flats under
ideal conditions, count on a slightly higher germination rate than
directly outdoors. Descriptions often tell you which is best.
Most seed packets will contain information on how and when to plant,
the number of days to seed germination, and days to harvest for
sure if you see days listed that you know what they refer to—days
to harvest, from planting out to harvest, or other. Packets also
spacing requirements, height and spread at maturity, thinning
growth habit, and special cultural considerations.
OF SEEDS-- Unless you are buying bulk seeds by weight, you can be
misled by the
size and shape of the packaging. Be sure to check the weight, or
often number of seeds, to determine how much to buy. This is
important with higher priced seeds like geraniums that may only have
ten seeds per packet. Some descriptions provide information on the
row the packet will plant.
parts of the plant description that may be important to you are
seeds are organic. If a vegetable, what
are characteristics and shape and size and taste of the fruit?
Is this variety resistant to diseases?
This is especially important for some vegetables such as tomatoes,
melons, and squash. Often specific diseases are listed with letters
be found in a key or bottom of the page, such as “V” for
see logos with descriptions. These
should have a key if in a catalog, often for such as easy, organic,
new, or an
award winner. The most common award you
will see for some is the shield of All-America Selections winners.
These are varieties that have proven among
the best in certain regions, or nationwide, and can be found online
descriptions, as in ads for other products, look for what “isn’t”
said. In other words, if you want a trait such as
good freezing for beans and this isn’t mentioned, this variety
freeze as well as others. On the other
hand, be wary of glowing descriptions such as “the best taste in our
trials”. Often I find most varieties offer the same
superlatives, and what tastes good to one person isn’t as good to
another. Look for traits that are most important to
you, such as size of fruit, color of fruit or flowers, height of
need or not for staking, yield, or time of flowering or ripening.
While flavor is often the most desired trait
of vegetables, color is often the most desired trait with flowers.
bears repeating to have some sort of plan, or at least know how much
how many pots you have, before buying seeds.
It is so easy (speaking from experience) to be enticed by all the
different varieties with colorful photos and glowing descriptions,
with several times as many seeds as you have the time or space to