By Dan Jewett, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Denver County
It's the stuff gardeners' dreams are made of: seed and nursery catalogs that fill our mailboxes in January and put us on the road to planning our next garden.
Those catalogs are a lot more than a list of products the seed companies want to sell. They are encyclopedias of information that, among other things, tell us which plants won't grow in Colorado. That keeps us from throwing away money for plants destined to fail with our growing conditions.
What else can we learn from seed and nursery catalogs? We'll discover whether plants are annuals or perennials; their mature size, shape and soil requirements; flower color, blooming season, special features and hardiness based on the USDA plant hardiness map.
Catalogs also tell us about the latest plant introductions and the newest hybrids. Sometimes companies will provide tips and techniques for growing particular plants. Some companies offer plants and seeds from another era, before the availability of modern hybrids. These "heirloom" plants are parents to many of today's hybrids; many have desirable traits that were lost in the breeding of new hybrids.
Thanks to catalogs, you also can plan your garden layout -- a great winter pastime if ever there were one. By using information about mature size and height, you can draw up plans that avoid plants shading one another. You can design effects that include a mass of color or a tiered border garden. Blooming times, which are listed in catalogs, will help you choose varieties that will bloom in grand succession from early spring to the first frost of fall, or beyond.
In the case of vegetables, information about time-to-harvest, tells you when to plant specific varieties and when you can expect them to bear in your area.
And if these advantages aren't enough, consider this: seed catalogs put in your hand a mini-horticultural textbook with plant pictures to help you place names with faces. Some seed companies feel so confident about the educational value of their catalogs, they assess a small charge, and they usually are well worth the nominal cost. This gardener saves seed catalogs over the years and the collection has become a valuable reference for home gardening.
If you have questions about using seed catalogs, contact your local office of Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.
For more information:
Other catalog sources:
Colorado State University does not endorse any of the above listed commercial providers or their products.
© CSU/Denver County Extension Master Gardener 2010
888 E. Iliff Avenue, Denver, CO 80210
Date last revised: 01/05/2010