Avoid the Pitfalls of Catalog Gardening
This is a great time of year to do some "desk gardening" as seed catalogs arrive almost daily in the mailbox. Catalogs inspire and educate us with their colorful photos artfully arranged on each page, and as we leaf through each catalog, dreams can be spun of the perfect garden. However, to insure your dreams don't become nightmares later on, it’s helpful to know a few potential pitfalls of catalog gardening.
1. Know your hardiness zone. That way, you can choose plants appropriately and know when you are pushing the envelope with a new plant. Locate your hardiness zone here.
With the hardiness zone in mind, look on the back of the catalog to see where the company is located. How close is it to your hardiness zone? This is important to consider when choosing plants that are advertised as drought or heat tolerant. For example, pansies advertised as heat tolerant in a catalog from Maine may not thrive in a garden in Richmond or Charlottesville.
2. Use the catalog key as a resource of information. The key explains the symbols for each plant. It’s usually found in the back near the index or near the ordering sheet. While it is great fun to grow something new, you should know whether the plant can flourish in your garden before you order the seed!
3. Get to know the heirloom and tomato sections. Since there is no agreed-upon, official definition of “Heirloom Seeds,” here is a link to a sound explanation of that term. Many heirloom plants taste better than modern hybrids but also may be more difficult to grow.
The tomato section may seem challenging because of all those letters. What do they mean? The letters, such as VFN, refer to the diseases each cultivar is resistant to (VFN: Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt and Nematodes). Many vegetables have been hybridized to resist certain diseases, but this doesn't mean they are disease-free. They are just resistant to a particular disease. I tend to choose tomato cultivars that are disease-resistant for my central Virginia garden.
4. Keep in mind the days to maturity (how long it takes for the crop to germinate and mature from seed) as you plan your garden. Stagger the planting of different vegetables or flowers accordingly to maximize the yield of your garden for a whole year.
5. Be realistic about what you can grow, and grow it well. If you are short on time or space, consider a container garden. If you don't care to weed, apply mulch throughout your garden. Consider wide planting beds rather than narrow rows or even the Square Foot Gardening method.
Now grab your newly-arrived catalogs, dream up a great garden, and strive to grow it!
Happy Gardening, Peggy Singlemann