Seed-crets of Success: A Guide to Seed Selection

Seed-crets of Success: A Guide to Seed Selection

By Ryanne Welch

Are you staring out your window, dreaming of warm days in the garden? Us too, but worry not! Put your daydreaming into action and plan your garden for the upcoming sunny days. Let’s talk tips and tricks and get planning!

Seed selection is like adopting a pet. Fortunately (and unfortunately) for us, these plants usually aren’t such a long term commitment as Rover, so there is a bit of wiggle room for error. However, some key factors must be considered to ensure these plants will be happy in your space and you’ll be a good fit.

Understanding Your Garden Space

The needs of plants, like our pets, are similar but vary widely. How I care for a hamster will differ significantly from how I care for a German shepherd. Similarly, how I care for a tomato plant will be very different from how I care for a banana tree. Let’s evaluate how your space may fit those needs. 

Zone: The USDA assigns different locations to different hardiness zones based on average annual extreme minimum temperature. Typically, the zone your plant will fit best will be listed on the back of the seed packet. Many local nurseries only carry seeds that will do well in the nearby zone, though check with them before assuming. If you’re unsure what your zone is, USU Extensions is a great resource to find the zone nearest to you, though there may be some variation. I would love to grow a banana tree in my backyard, but Utah County is not the place to do that.

Space: I love dogs, but living in a one-bedroom apartment with ten sounds like a nightmare. But ten dogs wouldn't sound as bad if I lived on a large ranch with all the room to roam. Plants also need space, so make sure you measure your growing area before choosing seeds. Sometimes, different varieties have different spacing needs, so if you want those tomatoes but don’t think they’ll fit, check other varieties, and you may find one that works for you. The packet will usually tell you the spacing needs.

Soil: Soil pH and composition significantly affect plant function and health. If you’re not sure what type of soil you have, get it tested. USU  offers soil testing at pretty great rates. We’ve used them in the garden and love them. If you find out your soil isn’t where you want it to be for what you want to grow, you can try amending it. This only works somewhat; be aware that some things won’t thrive in your soil. You won’t always find the soil needs on the packet, so we recommend a quick Google search.

Light: Different areas of your yard get different amounts of light. Monitor your planting area periodically throughout the day to see what kind of light it’s getting. Some places will get morning sun and afternoon shade. Some will have full sun, others full shade; there are a variety of in-betweens. Your seeds’ lighting needs should be listed on the packet. If only pets came with these packets…

Water: All plants need water. What does the watering system in your space look like?  Will you need to add drippers? Are you planning on watering by hand? Even if you’re planting native, water-wise plants (which we highly recommend), they’ll need some help getting started.

A Few Other Considerations

What will you use?

Here’s the part where we have to get realistic. Would it be so cool to plant those zucchini all along the fence? Totally! But the kids refuse to eat zucchini; the neighbors also have zucchini, and I can only eat so many bowls of zucchini soup on my own. Finishing the harvest with 200,000 zucchini might not be for you then. One plant may be the way to roll. Will you have fun growing the cauliflower? Yes, but do you like cauliflower? Just something to think about…

Seasonal care: When do you need to start the seeds? Can they be sown right into the soil, or must they be started inside and then transplanted? When does it need to be harvested? Is harvest in May when, every day, the kids have 90 billion activities to be driven to? Maybe that’s not the time you want to be harvesting. Think about how your schedule will line up with the plant’s schedule.

Plant Combos: Some plants pair well with others. Some help to keep away pests, while others attract pollinators. In the GRIT Garden, we grow a variety of herbs, the scent of which keeps the mosquitos away. We also have our pollinator strips along the edges of the garden. These lovely plants not only make for great cut flowers but attract pollinators that will help keep our produce happy and healthy. Take a look at your garden concerns and see if there is a plant that can help with that. And always consider helping the bees.

Now go out and get planning! Happy gardening!