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Seed Catalogues
by Linda Tomlinson
by Linda Tomlinson


Linda Tomlinson received a diploma in Horticulture from Olds College as well as a B.ed from the University of Calgary.

She has worked in many aspects of the Horticulture in Alberta as well as a stint in a Nursery in Australia.

Linda has taught adult Ed classes in Horticulture. She has a weekly column in The Red Deer Advocate going into her third year.

January 16, 2005

Seed catalogues started to arrive in the mail in December. Now is the time to dig them out and start plan next year’s garden. For those who have not received enough catalogues, contact companies requesting one. Lists of gardening catalogues are usually published in January gardening magazines. They can also be found at and

Beware, while some of the catalogues are free, others charge a minimal price that is often deducted from the first order. An alternative is to view many of the catalogues on line. Orders can then be made on line, by mail or phone.

Libraries in Alberta supply free internet access.

Treat a catalogue the same as you would a sales person. Read it carefully and understand that the wonderful pictures and descriptions are chosen for a reason; to sell the product. Besides looking for the obvious, plant size, flower color, scan the descriptions for the following information; days to maturity, seeds per package, germination instructions, Latin and common names.

Knowing how many days that it will take a plant to mature after it germinates is important when choosing seeds. Long season crops need to be started indoors to mature in central Alberta’s short growing season. Harvest can be extended over a number of weeks by planting seeds with different maturity dates.

Without a seed count the consumer doesn’t know what they are buying. A package of seed can range from 5 seeds to several 100. This can lead to a disaster when it is time to plant. Often the price of the package of seed is in direct relation to the amount of seeds in a package but not always.

While the commonly grown annuals will germinate easily, others require certain temperatures and light conditions. Likewise, perennial seeds often have a deeper dormancy and need special conditions to germinate. Knowing the conditions in advance lets the consumer make an educated decision about what seeds to buy.

Likewise it is best to know the outside growing conditions the plants require. Placing plants in their ideal spot usually insures a good display.

Common names guide most gardeners through the catalogue. Unfortunately, many plants have more than one common name and a Latin name is needed to guarantee the plant variety. Latin names are used through out the world thus enabling anyone to identify the specific plant by referencing it in any gardening book.

New is a word that is often used. It can mean that this is the plants debut but it usually means that it is the first year that it’s being sold by this catalogue.

Exclusive refers to the fact that this variety is only sold through the seed house. Often these seeds have been developed in their own trial plots.

Heirloom refers to seed varieties that can be traced back to early settlers. These varieties are the parents of modern varieties that have been preserved by being handed down from generation to generation. Heirloom flowers are often smaller with a stronger scent than new hybrids. Likewise heirloom vegetables will often be smaller, and less uniform while being more flavorful. Many of the older varieties will also be more susceptible to diseases.

It is important to preserve heritage seeds as they contain a wide range of genetic diversification.

A notation of “All American Selection Winner” is given to plants after they pass stringent testing at various locations across North America. Seeds with this notation should produce plants that perform well, regardless of the weather.

Certified Organic tells the consumer that the seed was grown organically without the use of pesticides and commercial fertilizers. Organic seed is not treated with fungicide making it more likely to rot if planted before the ground warms.

Zone ratings should be listed with perennials, bulbs, trees and shrubs. These are guidelines. Many plants listed will grow in a zone colder than listed as fences and buildings create warm microclimates within the garden.

Compare the ratings of plants in different catalogues and books. If in doubt, check with other gardeners and reputable garden centers. They will be happy to tell you of their experiences with that particular plant.

Size becomes important when purchasing plugs, roots, bulbs and trees and shrubs. If it isn’t mentioned then you don’t know what you are purchasing.

Factor in the cost of shipping and handling. It is often enough to double orders on one or two packets of seed.

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