Very few consumers would buy a car or an appliance without reading information about the product. Purchasing a package of seeds doesn’t require a bank loan, but buyers still should read the packet carefully, says a gardening expert in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
“The picture you see on the cover of a seed packet is designed to show the plant at its very best,” says J. Robert Nuss, professor of ornamental horticulture. “Reading the package before you buy helps you to make sure the seeds are best suited for your garden.”
Nuss recommends gardeners of all skill levels take time to check some important information on the seed package.
The date usually is listed on the back flap, typically bearing the phrase “packed for 1999.” “Don’t buy last year’s seed unless it’s free or so reduced in price that it won’t matter if many do not germinate,” Nuss says. “Some seeds are viable longer than others, but how the seeds have been stored has a major effect on germination.”
Packages of agricultural crop or grass mixes must list the percentage of each kind of seed if levels are higher than 5 percent. Weed seeds and the amount of inert matter (dirt, stones and chaff) must be listed as well. “Most packages of flower and vegetable seeds for home gardening contain 100 percent of the variety,” Nuss explains. “If you buy a ‘garden mix’ for a flower variety, read the percentage of seeds thoroughly. The highest percentage is listed first.”
The weight listing is invaluable in helping gardeners calculate costs and potential yield. Nuss explains that many seed packets are weighed in milligrams or listed by number per packet. “Seeds also are packaged by the ounce, so it’s important to remember that there are 2,800 milligrams in an ounce and 28 grams to an ounce,” he says.
Certain agricultural and vegetable crops grown in one geographic area may not do well in another. “If you buy seeds in Georgia, they may not do well if you plant them in Pennsylvania, unless they are specified for your region,” Nuss says.
“If listed on the package, germination information tells you what percentage of the seeds will produce plants under ideal conditions — which usually means in a laboratory,” Nuss explains. “Home gardeners can expect a germination rate of 75 to 85 percent when planting directly into the soil.”
Most packets of flower and vegetable seeds for home use list the variety and whether the seed is an annual, perennial or biennial. The package will note if the plant is a hybrid as well.
“Almost all seed packages have information on how and when to plant,” Nuss says. “The information should include the number of days until seed germination.” Vegetable packets list the number of days to maturity. Most packets list spacing recommendations and height and spread of the plant at maturity. Special care instructions and growth habits usually are included as well.
“Be sure to save the seed packet for use as a reference during the season or as a guide for next year,” Nuss says. “If you put the seed packet on a stake at the end of the garden row, chances are the weather will render it unreadable.”