Before you start: 10 Tips for Beginning Gardeners
What you are growing. At first glance, the front of the packet will give you the basic information that lets you know exactly what will grow from the seeds in each packet. Most prominent will be the common name of the plant, whether it’s a cosmos or a cucumber. Along with this, you’ll also find the specific variety of this particular plant, such as Sensation cosmos or Armenian cucumber.
A final visual aid on the front of each packet is an illustration, whether a drawing or a photograph, of what the mature plant, flower or vegetable looks like. Many of these are beautiful enough to be framed.
Type of plant. Knowing whether your plant is an annual, only lasting for one growing season; a biennial, with a two-year growing season; a perennial, coming back year after year; or a vine can make a big difference as to where you want to grow each plant.
Not all vegetable seed packets indicate that they’re vegetables, as most people will recognize the common name as such. You might find that some plants that straddle categories, such as lavender, which is an herb, will also be labeled as a perennial.
Description. Although some descriptions may be a bit over the top, they can also give you an idea of the size, color, growth pattern, aroma, productivity and other specifics of this particular variety.
How much light they need. Another bit of information to pay attention to is the sun needs for each plant, from full sun to shade. Your seedlings won’t do well if they’re getting too much or too little sun.
Size or growth pattern. Whether it’s the height of a black-eyed Susan vine, the spread of a mature lavender or the expected size of a pumpkin, you’ll usually find an indication of just how much room each plant will take up in your garden.
Bloom time or days to harvest. This lets you know when to expect the plant to be at its peak. For vegetable gardeners, especially those in cold-winter areas, this information tells you whether you have a long enough growing season to be successful. If it looks questionable, check to see if you can start seeds indoors (see below).
- When to sow seeds indoors. This is especially useful if you live in an area with a short growing season.
- When to sow seeds outdoors. Often this will include a map or schedules based on your climate zone.
- How deep to sow the seeds.
- How far apart to space them. This is especially helpful if you don’t plan to do any thinning.
- Days to germination. If you’re waiting for the first seedlings to emerge, it’s nice to have a sense of whether you’re just impatient or the seeds aren’t germinating.
- When to transplant seedlings.
Cultivating guidelines. While not as common as the planting information, many packets also include fairly detailed information on when to thin plants and even information on general garden care such as weeding, watering schedules, basic pruning times and when and how to harvest vegetables.
Some seed packets even provide advice on the best ways to use the particular plants, which could be anything from naturalizing them in a woodland garden area to planting them as part of a cutting garden. Vegetable seed packets often contain cooking and preserving suggestions.
With all this information, it seems a shame to simply toss the packets once you’ve planted the seeds. While it is charming to use them as plant markers or row markers, sun and water can quickly cause the printing to fade. Instead, bundle them with any other information you have about your garden for each year and keep it all where you can easily access the information as you need it.