Friday, January 8, 2010

Ordering Seeds – Making Good Choices

It’s usually in mid-January that we pour through the catalogues and pick the seeds we want to start this year. 

Having such a variety to choose from is both a blessing and a curse.  Well, maybe that’s a little strong – perhaps a ‘blight’, to use a gardening term.  But, invariably, we order way more than we need.  Not just because we have a limited capacity for starting  seeds, but also because we simply don’t have enough room in our garden.

Of course, we rationalize ordering more seeds by reminding ourselves of the trays of plants we share with family members, friends, the church flower beds, and so on.  A few years back, Susan told our nephew in British Columbia that she had transplanted 2,700 seedlings.  He was curious about why so many.  “Well,” she said, “they’re for our garden, and for our daughter’s garden, and her friend’s garden, and we have a few friends we share with, and then there’s the church grounds …”  And his response was, “So, what will you do with the other 2,000 plants?”

It’s hard to limit our choices.  We’re seduced by the beautiful colored photos in the seed catalogues, and the appeal of the new introductions.  And, of course, it’s always fun to experiment with something we haven’t tried before.

The other factor is that we can’t always predict what the germination rate will be.  Should we order an extra packet of the red petunias, just in case?

One year we had asters and gypsophila coming out of our ears.  And the digitalis came up like the hair on a dog’s back.  Unbelievable!  That’s when we learned it makes no sense to transplant ALL the seedlings that emerged from the seeds.  It does require some planning and making informed choices.  As painful as it is, sometimes it’s necessary to throw out perfectly healthy and vigorous seedlings.

So this year, we’ll be guided by our resolve to order only what we absolutely need; limiting the variety of annuals to those we know will work well for us; and resisting the temptation to experiment with all those interesting new varieties. 

AS IF!!  Guaranteed that when the seed order goes in we’ll realize that most of the resolve will have melted away.  Oh well, it’s all part of the fun.

Oh, and by the way.  Going through the online seed sources, I came across a page on the McKenzie Seed web site with a wonderful list of gardening tips – some are quite ingenious.  Here’s the link:

McKenzie Seeds - Fun and Rewarding Tips


  1. 2700 seedlings? My goodness you're keen! Terrific post, and the tips from McKenzie are great. I like the tea bag germination and coffee filters in pots ideas (maybe because it's realively early and I haven't had a cup of either yet ;)).

  2. Isn't it exciting that it's time to be ordering seeds again?! I made all my starter pots from rolled up flyers last year and they worked wonderfully. ( Obviously, a few plants on my balcony are easy to accommodate. :) My Dad used to have a greenhouse and, like you, I'm sure he gave away as many transplants as he used, and many more found their way to the compost eventually. It IS easy to be seduced by those glossy photos! :)

  3. I'm a bad gardener, Hank. I don't grow much from seed mostly because spring is my busiest time as a garden speaker; I'm out and away a fair bit and it only takes one day of longsuffering spouse neglecting to water things to have disaster. So unless it direct sows and is tough, it doesn't happen. I have seedling envy...

  4. 2700 seedlings? WOW! That's almost as many as the weeds that sprout in my garden paths each spring! I can't wait to see photos of your garden this year - I imagine it will be spectacular! Happy gardening in 2010!

  5. Hi Hank, It is daunting to think of caring for 2,700 seedlings! I once taught a class on gardening to young students at an agricultural school nearby. I would guess we had that many in the greenhouse... but there were others to help care for all those plants... that have an amazing will to live. Your greenhouse must be magical. It is so uplifting to see life and then sad of course to have to throw plants out. I so admire your efforts! Lucky friends and family! Alas! I have not had the space to start plants over these last years. I will look forward to your posts to see and read of new plant life beginnings.

  6. We have already selected our seeds for the spring, but they happen only to be for the vegetable garden. As for the landscape, less seeds and more stability has been our motto the last several years. ;) Thank you for the McKenzie site and further exploration. Diana