Flipping through flowers

Wednesday, January 11, 2006
With January comes a fresh selection of seed catalogs for the home gardener. (Fred Lynch)

One of my favorite things to do on a cold and blustery winter Sunday afternoon is to light a fire in the fireplace, make a nest in my lounge chair, turn off the radio and TV, and look through the most current seed catalogs that have just come through the mail.

Unfortunately the weathermen have not produced that cold and blustery Sunday afternoon, so I guess I'll just have to think it is cold outside. I'm still going to look through those new seed catalogs.

I go through the catalogs for several reasons. First, I look for the number of days from planting to maturity. Gardeners usually just ask, "How many days is a particular variety?" By knowing the number of days, you can plan the order in which you will plant the different varieties.

For example, you may plant a short-day corn variety and long-day variety on the same spring day. At maturity you will be able to pick the early variety first, and then the other variety about one to two weeks later.

The number of days from planting to maturity will tell you when to plant pumpkins so that they are ready to harvest around Halloween. The number of days will also tell you how late you can plant a bean variety in your fall garden.

Look for such information as size of the mature vegetable. You may like a tomato that will cover a hamburger bun, or you may want a small cherry size tomato for your salad.

Variety information about disease resistance is very important in the Southeast Missouri. Because of our warm summers with high humidity, the disease pressure on plants is extremely high. Look for varieties that resist the diseases commonly found in our area.

Many gardeners like to store vegetables by canning or freezing. Others just simply like to eat vegetables right out of the garden. Quite often information in the seed catalogs will tell you which varieties store better than others.

I generally look at the above information first for those varieties that I am familiar with. I fill most of my garden area with these tried and true varieties because I know what to expect. But I also keep a little room for those new varieties. The seed catalogs tell me which ones may do well in my garden.

Don't forget about those tried and true varieties and go to a new variety altogether. Sometimes the new variety hype is just that: hype. They may not do well in your garden. If all you have planted is a new variety and it doesn't do well, then you are out of that particular vegetable for the growing season.

If you are not into vegetable gardening, don't quit reading. Many of today's catalogs also feature perennials, annuals and shrubs. There is a wealth of information that will help you choose which plants to use for sun-versus-shade or wet-versus-dry soils. You will also find out when and how long they bloom, what their bloom looks like and how tall they get.

Many of the seed catalogs also show tools and chemicals that make your gardening hobby easier. So take a look at them. You may find something that you just can't live without.

Quite often you will find a wealth of general gardening information in many catalogs. They tell you how to plant, when and how to prune, when to fertilize and with what.

I do have one word of caution for you when looking through seed and gardening catalogs. It is easy to become mesmerized by the information describing varieties and species in the catalog. Take the catalog to your local garden center and check with the folks there. Chances are they have some experience with most of the plants listed in the catalog. Their knowledge may save you from planting a species that just won't work in the heartland.

Since it is raining today, maybe I'll get a chance to look at the catalogs on my coffee table. I just hope that I don't nod off too soon while sitting in front of the fire.

Send your gardening and landscape questions to Paul Schnare at P.O. Box 699; Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-0699 or by e-mail to news@semissourian.com.

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