Seed catalogs plant ideas

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One of the great winter pleasures for gardeners is planning and dreaming about what they will grow come spring. One of the best ways to transform those dreams into reality is to browse through some of the mail-order seed catalogs.

Most of the catalogs are free — all that is required is a request. For those who want to grow their plants from seed, these catalogs offer an unbelievable selection of enticing varieties that simply cannot be found elsewhere. 

The folks at the seed companies are on the cutting edge of the newest and best to home gardeners. Many catalogs include information and growing advice, allowing gardeners to learn just by browsing through the catalogs.

First, decide if planting seeds is really something that you want to do. It’s possible to have a fine vegetable garden by buying young plants from a local nursery or garden center. For the most part, the biggest difference is the range of possibilities of varieties — including heirloom plants. 

Many of our favorite flowers and vegetables — including tomatoes, peppers, squash and beans — evolved in places such as Central America and Mexico where they had many more hours of sunlight in their growing season than they get in Illinois. These seeds will not sprout in cold soil and cannot ripen in autumn because they need more sun than is available at that time of year.

Experts say there is a secret ingredient to successful seed-starting. Gardeners need to check daily to see if the seeds have sprouted and remove the cover when it’s time and move the sprouts under lights.  Seeds must stay properly moist so self-watering reservoirs must be kept full. The lights must be moved to a proper distance above the plants. If starting a few seeds on the windowsill, the plants must be moved every day so they don’t bend toward the light.

If starting seeds requires more time than you think can provide, seed catalogs can still be valuable. These catalogs provide ideas for different varieties. 

Some prefer holding the catalogs in their hands while others prefer perusing the options online. Some companies in order to save on waste, no longer print paper catalogs. One of the advantages of ordering online is the service is faster.

Here is a list of the 10 most popular seed catalogs:

- Park Seed always has a great selection of both flower and vegetable seeds, and some great herbs as well.  Prices are affordable, and seed packets have plenty of seeds. Seed is always fresh, and yield good to excellent germination rates. Shipping is fast, usually just a couple of days from order to in mailbox Highly recommended. They also offer some live plants as well.

- Burpee has always had one of the most colorful catalogs, and a wide selection of seeds. They are especially good at their vegetable selections, so all you veggie gardeners, take note. 

- Thompson and Morgan is an English seed supplier, but the ultimate in unusual seeds for the serious gardener. If gardening is your passion, you need this catalog.

- Johnny’s Selected Seeds  not only have an extensive seed catalog, they have lots of tips and resources there as well. The employee-owned company has a longstanding reputation as a quality company in the gardening community.

- Pinetree Garden Seeds specialize in smaller packets for the average home gardener, at smaller prices. They have a good selection, fast shipping and good customer service.

- Renee’s Garden has grown into one of the most trusted suppliers of seeds for organic and heirloom varieties. If you crave a little history with your salad, check out this supplier.

- Select Seeds is the place if you’re growing flowers and want antique varieties your grandmother grew. Nostalgic gardens are becoming more popular.

- Seed Savers is a non-profit company providing a wonderful source of information on heirloom and open pollinated seed. Not only does the free catalog list all their seeds, their sites educates us on why it is important to save heirloom varieties, and even has an online garden planner with a 30 day free trial. 

- Seeds of Change is a catalog you need for your veggie garden with a great selection of 100 percent certified organic seeds.

- Cooks Garden has veggie varieties that are difficult to find on your garden center rack — amazing in flavor and color.

Order your seeds early so that you can begin planting indoors at the right time for those seedlings to be ready for moving outdoors in late April or May — depending on your climate and the optimum time for outdoor planting.