Garden Catalog Inspiration

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picture of various seed catalogs

The Holiday season marks a special time of year that is filled with wonder, anticipation, and hopefulness. If you are like me, all this excitement is summed up into one single experience with the arrival of numerous garden catalogs to my mailbox. With colorful photographs of dew drenched fruit, and grand statements of delicious produce that just falls off the vine, what could be more enticing.

However, these temptations are not always the truth. Blemish free vegetables and weed free gardens do not happen by magic. It occurs through thoughtful planning and perspiration. Pamlico County is blessed with a long growing season that equates to numerous insects, diseases, and warm temperatures that can frustrate and discourage growers who fall for the marketing ploy of convenience and grandeur.

I suggest you take a little time to review your garden catalogs and get inspired by the possibilities. Recharge those gardening interests and consider the possibilities for your property, but before you make a purchase consider a few of these suggestions:

  • Not every variety of plant, fruit, or vegetable is adapted to your landscape. Flip the catalog mindset and base your decisions on plants that will fit into your landscape and garden. With ornamental plants, I generally phrase this as match the plant to the site. A sunny location in the front yard is a poor site for a Dogwood. This site is better suited to a Crepe Myrtle that can tolerate the heat and exposure. Just because the photographs in the catalog are beautiful, does not mean this will occur in your yard under poor growing conditions.
  • Consider past experiences when choosing varieties. Last year I grew a giant tomato variety that forms fruits through the fusion of flowers. In the catalog, this variety was touted as producing fruits weighing several pounds, but in my garden most of the flowers fell off before they set fruit. With heat and drought, these large fruited varieties can be difficult to grow. However, my Early Girl tomatoes had no problems growing as they set fruit earlier and escaped the hottest part of the summer. Learn from these experiences and make plans to adapt your efforts to maximize growth. Choose varieties such as heat tolerant tomatoes that may be better adapted to our climate.
  • Garden catalogs can provide some important information that is often overlooked. Have you ever noticed the different letters or superscript characters next to the name of plants and seeds in your catalogs? This nomenclature helps to identify growth characteristics and disease resistance. Tomatoes with the letters TSWV represent varieties with resistance to the disease Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. This virus occurs every year, and infects numerous tomato varieties. By choosing plants with resistance, it can help reduce the risk of disease occurrence and result in a better opportunity for a successful crop. Review each catalog carefully to find this information. A reference table is often included to help explain these resistance characteristics.
  • New varieties are usually worth trying. Every year someone will ask me about growing Silver Queen sweet corn. Yes, it is an acceptable variety, but there are numerous newer varieties that are far superior. Some varieties are sweeter, some will retain this sweetness longer, and others are more tender. Old heirloom varieties may hold a nostalgic appeal, but newer varieties often contain characteristics that can make your gardening experience more rewarding. Not every new variety of plant or seed will meet your expectation, but a limited trial is always exciting and often worth the effort. However, I would probably limit this experimentation to small purchases like seeds, vegetables, and small ornamentals.
  • Lastly, before you make a purchase, consider an Extension related resource that may help answer a few questions about these plants and seeds. If you are interested in an ornamental plant, then see if you can find this plant in the NC State Extension Plant Database. This database contains records for over 3,500 plants, flowers, trees, shrubs, perennials, etc., with information regarding their growth habits and site preferences. Most records contain numerous photographs and descriptions about growth patterns in North Carolina. Vegetable varieties can be cross-referenced with the Southeast Vegetable Crop Handbook. This is a handbook for commercial vegetable growers, but contains information regarding seeding dates, pest control, and some variety suggestions. If you are considering turfgrass then visit the NC State Extension Turffiles. This website contains all the turfgrass information from NC State University including weed ID, pest control, maintenance calendars, and more.

If you have questions about what might grow in Pamlico County or you need help interpreting those seed catalogs, then call Daniel Simpson at 252-745-4121 or send an email to daniel_simpson@ncsu.edu.