At this point you have decided on a gardening style that suits your desires and meets your lifestyle requirements. You’ve prepared a gardening environment, be it pots, raised beds or a nicely tilled plot, and you’re ready for the exciting part — buying SEEDS!! (the clouds part, crepuscular rays shine down and angelic singing can be heard) I get it, you’re excited!! Hold your horses, there are some things you should know. The lingo.
As you start surfing the web or exploring the seed racks at local greenhouses you’ll notice there are a few key words that keep popping up. Here is a general rundown on what they mean and what you should keep in mind…
Heirloom vs Hybrid – This is quite common with tomatoes but applies to other plants as well. Heirlooms are varieties that have developed over an extended period of time by way of open-pollination. This means that they are not specifically selected and bred but rather it happens on it’s own accord over several generations. On the contrary, Hybrid plants are selected and intentionally crossed to produce a variety with specific properties. (i.e. color, disease resistance, size, etc.)
Annuals vs Perennials – Annuals are varieties that need to be planted each growing season. Perennials can be planted once and will grow back year after year. This applies to flowers and vegetables. Yes, there are vegetables that come back year after year. (i.e. asparagus)
Climbing/Vining/Pole vs Bush – This one is pretty self explanatory but gets overlooked often. Bush varieties will grow in bush-like clusters near the ground. Climbing, vining or pole varieties are easily trellised due to their intrinsic clinging nature and are a great option if you’re working with a small space — why not grow up?
N-P-K ratios – This applies more to growing efforts bigger than the average kitchen window garden. Nitrogen, Phosphorous & Potassium are critical nutrients required by your plants. This ratio is typically listed on the bag of commercially produced fertilizers. I have provided a general rule of thumb below:
Nitrogen: Foliage and stem growth. Nitrogen will encourage rapid growth of leaves but not fruits so be careful, more green does not always translate to more crop.
Phosphorous: Roots and flowers. Phosphorous is critical for photosynthesis, aka making usable food for your plants.
Potassium: Crop development and overall plant health. Potassium is a key component in fighting disease and is usually a low number in the N-P-K ratio because too much prevents uptake of nitrogen and phosphorous.
It’s all about balance and timing. What I mean to say is, don’t overwhelm your plants with potassium if they’re not even big enough to bear fruit yet. If you are starting small then a general well balanced fertilizer will meet your needs and they can be found at big box stores (Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot, etc.) as well as local nurseries.
Lastly, keep an eye on the following requirements- Sun, Soil & Water.
This information will be listed on the seed packets and it will help you to care for your plants appropriately. If you put a “full sun” plant in a shaded part of your lawn it is going to struggle and vice versa, a “full shade” plant will bake in a full-sun environment.
I hope that this information helps you to navigate the seed/plant purchasing process. Don’t be afraid to try unique or mixed varieties, surprises can be fun! I always buy more seeds than I need but have no fear, they can typically be used year after year so if you find something you love you can use the leftover seeds next season. Also, if you have a friend who always boasts an amazing pepper crop don’t be afraid to ask them what the variety is so you can give it a shot yourself. Cheers, friends!