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For seed catalogs, look to the internet – but proceed with caution

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: January 4, 2018
  • Published January 4, 2018

Seedlings await transplant in Midtown Anchorage (Erik Hill / Alaska Dispatch News)

Back in the day, this would be the time of year to sit down, get paper and pen and find addresses so you could send off for seed catalogs. Wow. Sending a letter to order just the catalog. Then once you got it, you had to fill out an order form and mail it back! Finally, you got your seeds once the company processed your order (and maybe even quibbled about whether they could send things to Alaska).

Then the internet arrived. Garden writers started listing web addresses as well as snail mail locations and telephone numbers. The term "webolog" was coined. More and more gardeners became internet-savvy, and more and more seed houses did too. Catalog web presences got (and keep getting) better and better, with more information, finer photography and even video.

Today, there really is no need to list even the catalog addresses, be they of the snail mail variety or electronic. All the gardener has to do is open up any web browser and type in "garden catalogs." Bingo!

Sure, you can still get get a paper copy of some catalogs, but the economic and environmental costs needs to be taken into consideration. An era is passing. And to enter the new era, this year I am not even going to put in web addresses for catalogs. It is easier, over all, to let Siri or Alexa or Google find the addresses for you. Unlike me, they can take you right to them and even open the page.

Still, some of the "rules" or suggestions pertaining to seed catalogs remain the same. Just because you are using the internet doesn't mean you can go wild. There are limitations.

For example, Nichols Garden Nursery, Territorial Seeds, Johnny's Selected Seeds and AlaskaCoolSeeds (aka Denali Seed Company), all cater to gardeners and farmers who live in cold climates. These were the "must-have" snail mail catalogs and you should now put them on your internet list for annual perusal.

What these have, and what you should look for in other catalogs, are seeds for short-season gardeners. These also have all sorts of cultural tips that apply to our kind of climate as well. These are folks who have been good to Alaska gardeners, not questioning if we had U.S. mail when others did. …

When you read any catalog, look for days to harvest, recommended zone and any indication of degree of difficulty to be expected. When looking at webologs for perennial plants, trees and fruits, you need to know what gardening zone you are in. To find out what zone your zip code encompasses, use the USDA Zone map 9. Chances are you won't agree with the mean low temperature and swear you live in a warmer zone. You probably do, but this is just a guide.

For annuals and vegetables, what counts are the number of days it takes to go from germination to harvest. Do you have enough days of growing season? Don't forget that you start many things indoors a month or so earlier and these days count, too.

Next, remember that Alaskan gardeners are asked not to introduce diseases that may affect commercial growers. We are not like many other states where these already haunt growers. This is particularly so when it comes to potatoes, so please do not order any from Outside.

And finally, Alaskans are encouraged to grow heirloom varieties. Also known as open-pollinated seeds, they can be collected by the gardener from fruits and vegetables after they ripen and planted in subsequent years. You cannot do this with hybrid plants. Using open pollinated seeds enables a grower to "breed" better and better crops if the gardener finds a variety or trait that is desired.

Remember, what you put into your search engine can have a lot to do with what it spits out. Try out various combinations such as "seed catalogs heirloom" and "seed catalogs zone 3" and read through some of the listings to find catalogs. It is exploration time. Go wild. It isn't costing you anything to dip in and out of listings until you find something that interests you.

So, while there will be no lists of catalogs this year, I encourage all gardeners to spend a bit of time this month looking around the web for seed catalogs. Information is power and there is a tremendous amount of it out there for the looking. If you are looking for something specific, let me know via email. And, if I think of something specific, you can be sure I will list it along the way.

Meanwhile, the last rule of seed buying for Alaskan gardeners: You can get everything you need right here in Alaska and our greenhouses and nurseries deserve every bit of business we can give them. This year's motto, in fact, should be "Garden Locally!" More on that as the year unfolds.

Jeff's Alaskan Garden Calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: In keeping with the web theme this week, make sure you check out and bookmark the page. Check out the hours, costs to join, classes, information about the spring conference (call for speakers and vendors, by the way) and more. Join, too! Do it now and take advantage of all the member benefits.

Christmas cacti: Just let the flowers fall off and add to the soil. New growth should start to appear in a month or so after.

Amaryllis: Is yours out of storage? Did you get one for the holiday? Water and step back!

Stored bulbs: Check yours. Daffodils are probably ready to come out.

Read my books: "Teaming With Microbes," "Teaming With Nutrients" and "Teaming With Fungi"!

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