Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, the seed lockers are back! These harbingers of spring are now appearing in stores and nurseries across North America, exciting gardeners with visions of a new gardening season.
Without mitigating the excitement generated by these revolving or stationary supports, I suggest that novice and expert gardeners take care when approaching them. Seed holders are magical. They attract gardeners like magnets attract iron filings. It doesn’t matter if you have perfectly good seeds left over from last year or if you already ordered seeds from a catalog; you have to check what is offered.
Next thing you know, 10 minutes have passed and you’re heading to the cash register with a handful of seed offers. What happened?
Seed sellers know that gardeners are wired by the “Jack and the Beanstalk” story. Plant a magic seed – and all seeds are magic – and the stem grows. If we just pick half a dozen of these hand-sized seed packets, we can grow half an acre (or even more) of food or flowers. All it takes is a few seeds. Here they are, all in one place.
So, a few rules gardeners should keep in mind when they come across a spring seed rack:
First of all, never buy seeds unless you have a garden plan, and one that calls for that type of seed. (This also goes for catalog and online purchases; start with a plan.) You can take notes on what’s available in the racks (use your phone’s notes app), but don’t buy any bundles until you know you need them and have a place to grow them. Go home, make a simple plan, and then come back.
Second, never buy a seed packet based on its image. These are designed to look so good that you reach out and take the package, and once it’s in your hand, you won’t put it back. Simply put, the image is a sales gimmick and doesn’t give you the information you need to make a smart purchase.
This information is on the back of the packet, and the third rule of seed racking is that you study this information carefully before purchasing. The back describes the plant as annual, perennial or biennial, which is good to know. Where appropriate, the range of cultivation areas will be indicated. And, so important, this is where you’ll find the plant’s growing height and expected spread, so you can space seeds or seedlings appropriately.
Equally important, the back of the packet should state the number of days it takes the plant to go from germination to maturity. (You should already know how long your growing season is.)
There are often additional growing instructions.
These will indicate whether growing the plant matches your level of expertise.
And always look for this year’s date printed on the bottom of the packet so you know you’re getting fresh, viable seeds, not those from previous years.
Finally, note the number of seeds in the packet.
Usually a single packet will contain more than you need. (How many cabbage plants does your family want you to plant, anyway?)
I had encounters with seed racks at a local mall. My glasses may be all fogged up from the cold, but I see them and they attract me.
Within minutes, I’m walking around with a handful of seed packets that I really don’t need. Fortunately, my wife sends them back to me (unless they are arugula seeds).
There should be a fourth rule for seed racking: make sure your spouse or other responsible soul is with you.
Jeff Lowenfels regularly writes about gardening for The Associated Press. His books include “Teaming Up With Microbes” “Team Up With Mushrooms” and “Teaming up with Nutrients.” He can be contacted at [email protected]