So you have all the Christmas decorations stored, the income tax information compiled in a folder and now without any other interruptions, let’s get the seed catalogs all spread out and start making plans. You probably have a list of your standard vegetables and varieties. Have you ever thought about trying something entirely different just to see if it would grow well? Try two variety types to see which one produced more? How much space do you have for how many vegetables? When I look through catalogs, it’s like a kid in a candy store – I’d like one of each item.

What do we believe and expect from catalog products? Keep in mind as you swoon over all the pretty pictures that their purpose is to entice you to buy first-most, and to educate you last-most. Those pretty silver Artemesia that are “hardy and easy to grow” could barge into your property like a band of evil pixies, then float over the fence on the wind and take over your neighbor’s lawn, the back alley, and the cracks in the sidewalk out front! What the catalog might not tell you is that your Montana climate will turn those hardy annual plants into perennials that come from seed and from all the root bits, and if you aren’t ready for that it could be a three-year weed-pulling seed experiment gone bad.

When buying seeds it’s important to do your homework. Some seeds need special care to sprout. If you are preparing to pay $5 for a packet of 5 geranium seeds, for example, you should be aware that they are that expensive for a reason. That doesn’t mean to avoid them, it means you will want to know all you can about geranium seeds before they arrive in your mailbox. You won’t want to waste them because you didn’t know they want warm feet until they come up, and then watered from the bottom to avoid any extra moisture at the base of the seedling to avoid damping off. Pansies, on the other hand, better not be on that heat mat – they like it cool. And some seeds will want to be dark when others need to be exposed to the light! They won’t tell you those things in the catalog. Avoid preventable failures by having at hand (hard copy or online) a good seed identification guide that includes germination information (light requirements, moisture preferences, temperature, scarification, etc.), pictures of seedlings and first true leaves, time to germination, susceptibility to fungus or rots, and other helpful facts. [Park’s Success With Seeds is Corinna’s favorite reference.] You will want specific germination information on every seed you plan to buy for the best success.

If you find something you want to try that needs to be seeded indoors, assemble any
lights, heat mats or cables, and watering supplies before they arrive so you know what kind of space you’ll need. It can be a very enjoyable thing to have seedlings in the house on those dreary February days! The same diligence can be done for buying plant material. Know as much as you can about the plant, its best condition before planting, best time to plant, and best initial care requirements before you buy. Know what it is susceptible to, and what it wants for light, water, and soil. If you always have a reliable secondary source of information, you increase your rate of success and can spot ‘creative marketing’
before you fall for it.

It should be pointed out that if you are looking for specialty potatoes Montana has a Premier Seed Potato production that supplies seed potatoes to Idaho, Washington and other states that are famous for their potatoes. ( Nina Zidack of the MT Potato Lab “wants to encourage home gardeners to plant Montana-certified seed potatoes.” One reason is that certified seed potatoes grow better potatoes than potatoes bought in a grocery store or potatoes left over from previous seasons. Potatoes sold in grocery stores are often treated to restrict the sprouting of tubers, Zidack said, “and more importantly they may come from other states and carry virus diseases and tuber and soil-borne pests, or come from areas that have frequent outbreaks of Late Blight.” The Irish potato famine was caused by Late Blight, the most destructive disease of potatoes, which can also infect tomato, eggplant, pepper and petunia. Spores from the fungus may be wind borne and carried 50 miles or more. “Increased planting of Montana-certified seed in gardens will reduce the risk of introducing pathogens or other pests which would cause serious disease outbreaks resulting in monetary losses to [home and professional] growers,” Zidack said. If you have questions about sources for certified seed potatoes, contact your local extension agent or Nina Zidack at (406) 994-3150,

Don’t forget that your Master Gardener Association and Extension is a great source of information when you are trying new things. Use the online resources and your personal relationships through Master Gardeners to help you be a successful seed planter!

Submitted By: Sheri Kisch and Corinna Sinclair