Gardening

Read this before you succumb to the siren call of this season’s seed racks

This is my annual warning to be careful when you are around seed racks.

If you have not seen one this year, you are not looking very hard. Racks have popped up everywhere you would expect to find them — at nurseries, in supermarket floral departments and at the bigger mall stores.

You probably don’t need much of a warning, because you have been there yourself and know the deal. You walk into a mall or supermarket and there, right in front of you, is a 2022 seed rack, full of packets. Your glasses are still fogged as a result of coming inside from the cold, but they call to you and you immediately obey.

The next thing you know, 10 minutes have passed and you find yourself with a handful of seed packets. You go to look for your spouse. When you find her, she gives you that look which says: “Do you really needs more seeds? You just spent a weekend ordering them from catalogs and, by the way, you have lots stored in the fridge that are left over from previous seasons.” Busted.

At least I can point to the date at the bottom of the back of the packet: for the 2022 season. “See that? This is why I need them. Those old seeds are expired …” She is more of a gardener than I am, however, and often as not, the packets go back onto the rack — unless I happened to get a packet of arugula. She loves this lettuce.

My point: Seed racks are cunning. I have a theory that they are so successful because we were all brainwashed in early childhood by the “Jack and the Beanstalk” story. When we see seeds for sale we think that with a few small packets of magic seeds we can plant acres worth of gardens. Talk about magic beans!

Don’t get me wrong. Seed racks are wonderful, as long as you don’t rely on the packet pictures in any meaningful way. Instead, the information you need is on the back of the packets: Is the resulting plant an annual, perennial or biennial? How tall will it grow, and what is its spread? How many days do you need for the seed to go from germination to maturity? All of this is important information you need to know before you buy any seed.

The real problem with seed rack appearances is not fighting off the huge temptation they present. It is purchasing anything, seed or plant, before you have a plan for this season’s gardens. Coming home with five different kinds of cabbages and half a dozen broccoli types is not planning. (Your family won’t appreciate it, either.)

It is early in the 2022 season, and now is the time to get out some paper and make a very rough sketch of your garden beds. This way you are forced to think about what you want to grow, where the plants belong and how many of any particular plant you need to fill out your plan. This is not a difficult assignment. You don’t need artistic skills. You just need to do it so you are not approaching seed racks or nursery plants blind. Trust me. Without a plan, you are going to end up wasting money.

Now, when you pull down a packet of broccoli seeds, you will realize the other five packets are not needed because you see there are 100 seeds in this one pack. You can stick to a rational color scheme because you have it planned out. The end result is a better garden with — probably — a significant savings in seed purchases.

No plan yet? You can still safely approach seed racks. Doing so will help you get a general idea of what you might want to include in your plan. Take notes — you can use your phone these days — then go home, draw your plan and only then go back and buy what you need, and only what you need. You might want to bring the spouse along, just to make sure.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Paper whites: Once they are finished blooming, they are finished. Toss them onto the compost pile.

Houseplant insects: Neem oil-based products are the ticket to try to deal with infestations.

Nurseries: It’s always fun to visit at the start of the season. Get seeds — bring your plan — and see what the professionals have started already.

Alaska Botanical Garden: Oil painting classes, sessions on integrated pest management, nighttime photography workshops — there is a lot going on at the Alaska Botanical Garden. Check it all out at alaskabg.org. Join while you are at it. This is one of the gardener’s best deals going.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2020 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He's authored several books on organic gardening; his latest is "DIY Autoflowering Cannabis: A New Way To Grow." Reach him at jefflowenfels@gmail.com.

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