Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Garden Tips A to Z: Catalog Seeds & Plants

Do you have any other tips for buying from seed catalogs?  Share your tips in a comment!
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Seeds and Plants

Catalog shopping for seeds and plants is one of my favorite ways to pass cold, January evenings (along with a glass of wine in hand and Downton Abbey on the tube!).  They have a great selection and advice on which varieties will work best in your particular garden.  I go through the catalogs and circle my top choices, go back and narrow down to top picks, and then order online.

Pay attention to your USDA zone, season length, and particular conditions and choose seeds carefully.  Years ago, I bought watermelon seeds and nurtured them through the summer, only to realize my growing season was too short for that variety.  We got a frost before we got a single melon!

If starting seeds indoors, order seeds early enough.  I order in early February and start seeds under the grow lights in mid-February.

Getting the Best Prices:  
-  Sign up for email mailing lists: you'll be the first to know about sales and special offers.

-  I can often find great deals by Googling "coupon code" + the catalog's name.  I recently used a $100 off $200 order at Henry Field's by using a coupon code at check-out.

- Some retailers offer rebates or rewards if you click through another site. offers 9 swag-bucks (basically 9% cash back) at Burpee's. retailers donate to a charity of your choice when you click through their site.  (I've raised over $50 for a local dog rescue just by clicking through GoodShop when I online shop!)  This is on top of any coupon codes or sales!

Buying Trees & Shrubs:

I can't say enough good things about the National Arbor Day Foundation tree nursery.  I started ordering from them ten years ago when I bought my first house; I stocked my small suburban backyard with peach, pear, arborvitae, and hazelnut trees, plus a variety of shrubs including rhododendron and forsythia.

When we moved to the family farm last year, I made another big purchase.  We decided on a sunny spot at the end of our pasture for something I had been dreaming about for years... our own orchard!  I got apples, peaches, pears, and plums.  We also had some construction work done on the brook to reduce flooding, which left a barren slope.  To reduce erosion, I planted a lot of Norway spruce (which is also a great natural habitat for wildlife) and the fast-growing shrub North Privet.

The prices at National Arbor Day are fantastic and they offer a lot of great info on choosing the right trees.  I get the membership for $10 every year, which gets me discounted prices.  Right now, they offer 10 free trees with membership.

Seeds for Small Gardens:
- Tomatoes: Look for "determinate" varieties, like Roma.  They will grow into a small bush rather than
continue to vine.  They can be easily caged/staked and should not be pruned.

- Cucumbers: Look for "bush" varieties which will stay more compact than vining types.  Or, look for a variety that is a good climber and can be trained up a trellis.

- Squash (summer and winter) and melons: Look for "bush" or "semi-bush" varieties.  Some squash and melons can be trained to grow up trellises.  (Support heavy fruits by putting the fruit in a length of pantyhose and tying it to the trellis!)

- Beans:  Bush beans are small plants; crops can be planted every two weeks for continuous harvest.  Or, make a tepee out of 6' branches and plant pole beans; bush cukes or squash can be planted under the tepee to utilize space!

- Herbs: Most herbs do well in pots.  I've also stuck chives, oregano, and sage into empty corners in my raised beds where they are happy to grow among other plants.

- "Cottage Gardening" is based on the idea of informally mixing flowers, vegetables, and fruit into the same garden.  Don't be afraid to stick flowers and herbs in among produce!  I squeeze in small marigolds, which are known to repel deer and rabbits.

- Keep last year's seed packets.  The germination rate may not be as high as with fresh seeds, so simply plant more seeds in the same space and thin out as needed.  Store seeds in a cool, dark place until the next season.  Also, look for discounted seeds at the end of the season (I got a ton of packets for 10 cents each at the Christmas Tree Shop in August.)

Happy Gardening!   -Katie

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