It’s the time of year when avid gardeners pour over seed catalogues, drool over possibilities, explore new varieties, plan planting for their beds or dream of expanding their gardens in the spring. For the novice gardener the thought of picking seeds can be overwhelming. There are literally THOUSANDS of seeds to choose from. Where do you start? What seeds are “good seeds”, what varieties will work best for the garden space? Here are a few guidelines that can help you start on your gardening journey.
What are your growing conditions?
-Consider which plants will best fit the qualities of your garden. What is the sunlight, soil quality, moisture etc? Most seed catalogues have detailed descriptions of what conditions the plant thrives best in. Try to match plants with your garden space.
Does your garden area get enough daylight?
-Most veggies require a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun to grow, more is beneficial, however, less can impare growth or productivity. Consider the “days to harvest” or “days to maturity” for each plant and the daylight the area receives. If less sunlight the days to harvest time may be extended. Know your climate and growing zone (link to growing zones). The growing zone you live in will not only help you determine the best time to plant, but also help you determine if certain varieties will grow successfully in your garden or not.
What are your soil conditions?
-Root veggies like carrots may struggle in clay or compacted soils. Look for varieties that match your soil type (or amend your soil to be different quality!). Consider a soil test before planting to be sure your garden has all the minerals and organic matter your plants need to grow successfully. The soil test will indicate what amendments you should add before planting. Look here (link to preparing your garden for winter) for some ideas on how to organically prepare your soil in the fall for a successful spring and summer growing season.
Where will you plant?
Determine if you will plant directly in the ground in raised beds or in containers. If you have a limited space or are growing from containers or planters, choose compact or bush varieties to save on space. These will still be productive in a smaller space. Consider using fencing or trellising to increase your gardening space if you want to grow vines. Trellis will not only look pretty, but it will give you the option to grow vine varieties that require larger grow areas in a smaller space.
What is your climate? Are you prone to certain plant diseases?
-If you are in a traditionally dry area look for drought resistant varieties. Disease resistant seeds are great to consider as they require less care, survive longer, and produce more over the course of the season.
Perennial vs. Annual plants?
-Some plants (annuals) won’t survive winter conditions, they grow for one season and then die. Most veggies fall into this category. Other plants like berries, asparagus, some herbs, and
fruit trees are perennials and can survive through the winter for many years. When planning your garden, decide whether you’ll plant annuals, perennials, or a combination of
both. Some perennial herbs like mint, oregano and thyme are a great way to naturally deter garden pests.
Do you want to grow organic/heirloom varieties or hybrid?
-This is really a personal preference. Heirloom and organic varieties are plants that you can store the seeds and grow the same plant again the next year. They haven’t been genetically altered to withstand drought, diseases or increase their natural productivity. Hybrid varieties have been modified to increase certain desired qualities like productivity, disease resistance, drought tolerance and space saving. For a beginner gardener many hybrid options may be more rewarding for the yield. In our garden we try to stay mainly organic and heirloom as I seed store and prefer the taste of these plants over hybrids. Really this is a personal preference!
What do you like to eat fresh or preserved?
-This is the most important part of selecting your vegetables for your garden space. It’s easy to list vegetables that you “should” grow in your garden. But what are veggies that you actually enjoy eating or cooking with? Plan the majority of your garden with plants that you will eat and save a small space for those experimental crops. If you fill your garden with varieties you have never eaten, you may discover you don’t like them. Also consider the value of what you plant. We don’t plant cabbage, brussel sprouts and keep a very small crop of carrots (just enough to snack on) as these are very cheap to purchase compared to the space we have available in our garden, we don’t eat cabbage/brussels often and they tend to bring pests to my kale and other veggies that I love.
Should I plant flowers?
Flowers are a great way to naturally bring in pollinators to your veggie garden as well as provide a splash of color or fun summer bouquets to your home. Many flowers will not only attract pollinators, but also beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings that naturally help with pest control. Some flowers like marigolds and candela can help ward off garden pests too!
Phew, thats a lot to consider but I hope it has at least given you a bit more understanding of where to start when looking at seeds for your garden this spring. Good luck and happy gardening!