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Reading Seed Packets: The Absolute Beginner's Guide

I was going to go ahead and work on a post listing common herbs & veggies with a weekly sowing guide for you this week but, I got started on my writing journey this morning and I decided to sort of pump the breaks a bit. I want to talk to you about something first. Seed Packets!

Point of view: You are at the store and see a beautiful seed display. You decide to take a quick peek. All the while several thoughts begin to emerge.

"Ooo, those are pretty", as you pick up the nearest packet with the hot pinky purple flower on it. "We can grow these to eat" as you scan the varieties of veggies.

"Grandma grew these" or

"Growing stuff on my patio would be nice",

and so on and so forth the visualization of garden possibilities and the nostalgic thoughts dance in your head. Seconds later, notions of uncertainty startup. As you put the seed packet back on the display, you think about all the reasons why growing seeds is wonderful but seems out of reach.

Next time you are in this situation, rather than put that seed packet back, decide to choose one or two. Most seeds sold at stores are easy-to-grow varieties that are designed specifically for anyone to start. The only thing standing between you and growing something is reading the seed packet you have in your hand. All of the information you need is on the front, back, and oftentimes even on the inside of the packet.

Without getting too daunting, I've made an infographic and a list of what is included on most seed packets. I decided to go with a Botanical Interests seed packet because I buy their seeds every year, I love their hand-drawn graphics and they have a few extra features that are nifty as well. As you are reading, think of this information in more general terms and not based on the specific variety pictured.

Botanical Interests seed packet label
Reading a Seed Packet: An Infographic Guide. (Click to enlarge)

How to Read a Seed Packet:

  1. Common Name & Latin Name

  2. Maturity: How long before you can eat them or how long until they bloom.

  3. Specific Features: this usually tells you if the seed is an heirloom, hybrid, native, annual, or perennial.

  4. More Details: this usually tells you more about the history of the seed, best uses, full-grown plant size, and how many plants this packet yields.

  5. * Botanical Interests packets feature a handy plant tag that you can cut out and put with your growing seeds or put in your journal to remember what you planted. (Not many seed companies do this)

  6. Planting Instructions: Describes how long after it's planted before you see a sprout, how deep you should plant the seed, and the distance between each seed (for the direct outdoor sowing method). Planting instructions vary by brand but will contain all of the information that you need.

  7. Indoor vs Outdoor Sowing: Will recommend whether you should start the seed indoors or direct sow outside. Will also give you the weeks before the last frost that you need to plant indoors or out. Transplanting requirements, temperature requirements for germination, and other information will be here.

  8. Certification Specs: Not all packets will have this information but it's very important to look for. Good seed companies will have listed on their seed packets that the seed is non-gmo (not genetically modified), that it is open-pollinated, and they will have an official seal of organic certification.

  9. * More information on the inside of the packet. Cut it open carefully and check it out! It includes native info, hardiness zones, plant dimensions, variety info, optimal growing conditions, harvesting info, storage info, and even info on pollinator gardens and other areas of interest.

*= Botanical Interest (and some brand-specific features).

Bonus Info:

To wrap up today I'd like to define a few key terms that I used throughout this post.

  • Latin Name- Seed packets listing the Latin plant name helps to avert confusion caused by the often contradictory and multiple common names an individual may have.

  • Maturity- The final stage of the plant's growth in which the fruit or blossom ripens.

  • Heirloom- Describes a seed’s heritage, specifically a documented heritage being passed down from generation to generation within a family or community. An heirloom variety of vegetable, fruit, or flower must be open-pollinated **The definition of an heirloom is widely debated among enthusiasts and scholars but to my understanding, an heirloom describes a variety that is not hybridized. It retains its original traits from one generation to the next.

  • Hybrid- The offspring of parents from two different species or subspecies.

  • Native- Occur naturally in their ecoregion and habitat where over the course of evolutionary time they have adapted to physical conditions and co-evolved with the other species in the system. **Natives are very important!

  • Annual- Plant that dies off every year.

  • Perennial- Plant that lives more than 2 years. Comes back each year.

  • Sowing- The act of planting a seed.

  • Germination- When a seed sprouts its shell, and a baby plant emerges.

  • GMO- Or genetically modified organism contains DNA that has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. In this case, we are talking about the seed.

  • Open- Pollinated- pollination achieved by birds, insects, and other natural means.

Feel free to contact me if you want more information on reading seed packets. I can also share with you some of the brands that I use most when I'm not saving my own seeds. I hope that my infographic and written information has inspired you to go ahead and pick up that next seed packet while you are at the store. I have found the brands that I favor. Most of mine are available at different online retailers. Take your time and find different seed packet brands and styles until you find the ones you like best too!

Written By: Irisa Green, Owner, and Gardener at Sunstone Garden LLC


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