If you want to go digital with your seed research, here’s a good way to start

I don’t know what I was thinking, repudiating paper garden catalogs and then urging readers to use the internet themselves to find catalogs on their own (or plants if they want)! Catalogs and then weblogs were “easy” January columns as I didn’t have to think of a timely and suitable subject. Now what?

Well, it occurred to me that I might provide a few of my searches as examples so you can get a feel for how to use the internet to develop your own catalog of seeds or plants. I kept track of a few of the more interesting (to this plant nerd, anyhow) or useful subjects I searched for myself last week.

A good example was a dive into aquatic plants. I am always on the hunt for ways Alaskans can grow plants during our long, long winter. I got the idea to collect aquatic plants. There are any number that do great either in a fish tank or a shallower container. Some don’t even require supplemental lights.

I have always wanted a collection of so-called “duck weeds.” There are several plants with this nickname, all tiny, floating plants such as Salvinia minima, a diminutive fern or the smallest flowering vascular plant, Wolffia spp. There is a lovely one with red-hued leaves, Phyllanthus fluitans. I know this because I searched for “duck weeds.”

I had much less familiarity with the dozen of so other aquatic plants that popped up, but my curiosity was piqued. My search engine supplied alternative but related searches and thus allowed me to gather and add information for a possible column on “Floating Aquarium Plants.”

I can easily see many winter-stranded Alaskans starting a collection of aquatics which can even be kept in small bowls. Click to mark, click to copy, click to paste on a Word or Pages document and I have the start of an aquatic plants catalog. Easy, huh?

This is probably not the time of year to order these plants. I will have to try and remember to mention the idea of setting up a floating or aquarium garden in the spring or summer when you can mail order without worry of frozen plants. And, you will already have a catalog to use.


And, in keeping with how the system should work make sure there isn’t a way to buy locally before resorting to mail order. In this case, any pet store selling fish will have some of these plants. You can take then home right now in a warm car and get a jump on starting a collection to help you get through the months of winter.

Next, peas were on my mind last week. It is a great idea to plant legumes as they fix nitrogen for free. Peas also do really well in Alaska. There are so many new ones and I would like to find some. I typed in “best shelling peas” and “new peas for 2023.” The latter search was a bust. It happens. But there were lots of “best” offerings and even a few articles which include hyperlinks that took me to the catalogs that offer them.

Moving on, I use the internet to find plants that we don’t grow here but might want to consider if we can be assured they won’t be invasive. My last session putting together a list of candidates resulted in a search of “jostaberries” (Ribes × nidigrolaria). This is a relatively new plant, introduced in 1977, and is a cross between currants and gooseberries, both of which do very well here and don’t seem invasive. While it is hardy to Zone 3, they don’t seem to produce much fruit. Still, might be worth a try. (If anyone out there grows them or a local nursery carries them, let me know).

Finally, like so many Alaska gardeners, I am a sucker for unusual tomatoes. Plum, oblong, early, different colors -- you name it! You could spend a week on the internet looking at the offerings you might want to try. If you need help starting, try looking up “short season tomatoes,” “weird shaped tomatoes,” “unique tomatoes” and “cold hardy tomatoes.” You will find some great stuff you have never seen nonetheless grown. Copy the picture and description, paste it into a document along with the web address. No stamp, no pen or paper.

I am quite sure you get the idea. Open a document, copy from the internet and place into the document. The internet, as I always tell gardeners, is an extremely important and useful garden tool. If you don’t use it for horticultural purposes, now is the time to start.

Jeff’s Alaska Garden Calendar:

Alaska Botanical Garden Spring Conference: Calendar March 8-10th for the ABG Spring Garden Conference. Jan. 9th was the last day to submit proposals to speak.

Amaryllis: Buy these extremely easy to grow bulbs. If you have some already in storage for at least 8 weeks, take them out, expose to light, water them and stand back.

Seed Racks: They will be popping up at any moment. Careful not to let them tempt you too much.

Jeff Lowenfels

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He is the author of a series of books on organic gardening available at Amazon and elsewhere. He co-hosts the "Teaming With Microbes" podcast.