Seed catalogs already?

In the Garden
Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University Master Gardener

     They get earlier every year.  No, I am not talking about the Christmas movies, although that would be true.  I mean the seed catalogues.  I received two garden seed catalogues for 2023 last week.  I put them in the magazine rack.  I am not ready to think about spring planting yet.
     Perhaps the seed companies are afraid we will spend our limited resources on frivolous things like food and gas and will not have money for seeds after the first of the year.  Gardeners, however, will always find a way to buy the seeds they need, and even will make some way to buy some seeds just for their enjoyment.
     While it is a little early, even for me, I do understand the need to shop early.  If there are new varieties that you wish to try, you need to get that order in soon.  With new varieties, the seed supply is often quite limited, and they often sell out very early.  The same is true of some heirloom seeds, especially a variety that has become popular.
     It is not too early to start taking inventory of the seeds you have left.  If the seeds were purchased this year, they should still be viable for next year.  Larger seeds tend to remain viable for longer than small seeds.  Beans and corn seeds have been found in ancient caves and have been planted, resulting in successful crops.  Smaller seeds, like lettuce and carrots, will last for a year or two, but one usually finds that the germination rate goes down with each passing year.  You may check the germination rate by taking a sampling of the seed and putting them between moist paper towels.  Place this package in a plastic bag in a warm place, such as the top of the refrigerator.  After a week or so, check to see how many of the seeds have sprouted.  If half or more of the seeds have sprouted, it is likely that the seed is worth saving and planting next year.
     You may also want to check the seed packets for some special instructions.  Some seeds actually do better if planted in the cold weather.  Some seeds need a cold treatment to promote germination.  This is often true of native wildflowers.  If one stops to think, they naturally sow their seeds at the end of the bloom season, when the flowers dry and the seeds fall to the earth.  The seeds do not have to be covered with soil, but they do need to make contact with the soil.  Over the winter, they will be washed into the soil, where they will await the warming spring sun that causes them to germinate.  Remember where you plant them and watch for their appearance next spring.  Be patient; many such self-sowers do not show up in gardens until late spring or even early summer.  Cypress vine and passion vine are two such late-comers, and both will grow rapidly and cover a trellis in a few weeks once they do start to grow.
     Store your seeds in a cool, dry place.  I usually put seeds in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator, but a cool pantry or cellar also works well.  Be sure the seeds are in a sealed jar to ensure they are safe from mice.
     I will keep those early seed catalogues and will undoubtedly add more arrivals to the stack.  There will come a cold, rainy day when I will want to stay inside and dream of next year’s garden.  Seed catalogues are the gardener’s wish book.
     I have had several questions about lilacs that are in bloom at this time of the year.  Stressed plants may behave in strange ways.  This may mean fewer lilacs in the spring, but it should not cause any permanent damage to the shrub.  In the meantime, enjoy that wonderful scent.



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