Seed catalogs for 2014 are arriving in the mail. It’s easy to over-order seeds and plants from the pretty pictures and claims of “easy to grow.” But keep in mind there are real planting requirements that should be considered before placing any seed order.
- Space. Do you have an acreage or farm? A large garden or just a few containers on a patio? Space will dictate what you can plant. Start your seed wish list with favorites at the top and prioritize what you really have room for. Two tomato plants can be as satisfying as 12. This seems like common sense but grow what you like and what your family will actually eat.
- Zone. Plants are rated hardy by agricultural zone. If plant annuals, then the sky is the limit since annuals are intended for one season. If you’re interested in perennials, shrubs or landscape trees, make sure they are rated for your zone. Most of Eastern Iowa is zone 4b, which means plants should be rated zone 4 or lower. Some zone 5 plants may be fine in a protected location, just be open to the possibility that it might not survive a really cold winter (like this one).
- Light. Don’t order plants labeled for full sun if you don’t have at least six to eight hours of sun each day. If plants don’t receive proper sunlight, they won’t bloom or produce and may become stressed and susceptible to disease and pests, eventually perishing. Full sun is six to eight hours per day, partial sun is four to six hours.
- Days to harvest. We have a fairly decent growing season in Iowa but make sure you choose varieties that will grow and produce vegetables or blooms in a typical Iowa season. Most seed packets provide information for number of days to harvest. One way to extend that is to start seeds early indoors and plant as transplants in the spring. You can even push that up if you plant in a cold-frame. Read descriptions carefully, some plants do not transplant well and seeds should be sown in the ground.
- Size. That tiny tomato seed has the potential to be 5 feet to 6 feet high, so consider full grown plant size. Mapping out plant size on graph paper is helpful, leaving ample room for full width and height. Plants too compact together invite disease and pests. Make sure taller plants are in the back or north so they don’t shade smaller plants.
After considering these requirements, have fun planning and ordering this year’s seeds and plants.
For questions about seeds and other gardening issues, call the Linn County Extension Hortline at (319) 447-0647 from 10 a.m. to noon weekdays.
Lisa Slattery is an Iowa State University Extension Linn County Master Gardener.