Helping Make Sense of Seed Packets
While I would like to tell you that I have read every seed packet before purchasing, that would be a big fib. More than once, I have purchased solely on the picture and sun exposure, which resulted in varying degrees of success. Besides the plants’ required growing conditions, there are some terms you may want to be familiar with prior to purchasing seed packets.
GMO vs. Non-GMO. Fewer than 10 GMO (genetically modified organism) crops are grown in the U.S., and these are production crops such as soybeans, corn, sugar beets, canola and cotton. There are currently no GMO seeds available for purchase by home gardeners. So, don’t be confused if you see signs advertising non-GMO seeds; all home garden seeds are non-GMO.
Hybrid seeds result from cross-pollinating different varieties within the same species, to produce plants with a desirable trait, such as disease resistance. These seeds may be labeled as hybrid or F1.
Open-pollinated seeds are produced through natural pollination, without interference from humans. These seeds will regrow the same plant each time.
Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated varieties passed down through generations. Do not confuse open-pollinated with heirloom; not all open-pollinated seeds are heirloom.
Organic seeds are grown following the standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program, and the packet will be labelled “USDA ORGANIC.” These seeds are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Treated seeds are coated with a substance, or have gone through a process to reduce, control or repel diseases or pests. These seeds are brightly colored, to indicate they have been treated and will be labeled as such on the packet.
Dates. Look for seeds that were packed for the current season. The “packed on” and “sell by” dates will be printed or stamped on the envelope.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate. Tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, beans and peas are examples of plants that can be either determinate or indeterminate. Most determinate garden plants grow in a compact bush form that doesn’t require staking. Their crop ripens at the same time. In order to extend the harvest, you’ll have to use successive plantings. Indeterminate garden plants continue to grow, or climb as far as they want, which will require support/staking. These plants produce all season long, until the final frost.
Stratification and Scarification. Stratification occurs naturally in winter, keeping seeds from germinating until the spring warmth starts. You can duplicate the process, using your refrigerator, by placing seeds in a plastic bag with either damp peat moss, damp potting soil or a damp paper towel for 30 days. Scarification means to break down the seed coat to encourage germination. This can be done by soaking the seed, or nicking the seed coat with a knife, or sandpaper, so the seed will absorb water and start the sprouting process.
Start seeds inside. You will need to do a little math. The Brandywine tomato packet recommends starting seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before transplanting. Transplants should then go into the ground 1-2 weeks after the average last frost date, and when soil temperature is at least 60 degrees.
Cobb County Extension recommends using April 15 as the average last frost date. Using this date, add a safety net of 1-2 weeks, for a transplant date range of April 22-29 for the Brandywine tomatoes. Working back 4-6 weeks from those dates, seeds should be sown indoors March 18-25. Once the Brandywine transplants go in the ground, look at harvesting in July. As the estimated transplant date approaches, pay attention to local forecasts for frost updates.
For additional information on seed starting, visit www.extension.uga.edu/publications and search for Bulletin 1432, “Starting Plants From Seed for the Home Gardener.” Have fun and happy sowing!
Georgia Master Gardeners are now on YouTube. Cobb County Master Gardeners, North Fulton Master Gardeners and UGA Extension Cherokee County have posted videos on home gardening and other horticultural topics.
The Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County (MGVOCC) supports the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service and strives to improve the quality of life in our community by delivering research – based on horticultural information, educational programs and projects.