It won't be
your mailbox is filled with seed and plant catalogs of every
description. These messengers of good things to come
arrive at a time when most of us are up to our ankles in snow and ready
for the escape these publications offer.
However, as you thumb
through the pages you might run across words that are unfamiliar. These
words translate to 'horticulture speak' and are put there to help you
make decisions in buying the right seed or plant for your garden.
seed catalogs might seem unfamiliar, it is important to understand
their meaning. Knowing what these words means can add a lot to your
horticultural knowledge and make you a better informed consumer.
shopping for perennials, the term "hardiness
The United States is broken up into 11 hardiness zones based upon the
lowest average winter temperature for the area. The zones range from
zone 1--minus-50 degrees--to zone 11--plus-40 degrees.
Knowing what zone you
garden in and seeing what zone the plant is hardy
to will help you pick plants that should survive the winter. When you
see a perennial offered for sale, don't just look at the pretty
picture, make sure it is at least hardy to your zone.
Somewhere in the plant's description you will find what zones the plant
is hardy to. An example could be a butterfly bush (Buddleia)
hardy to zone 5. If you live in zone 4, you might have trouble getting
it to overwinter successfully.
that case, you might want to make another choice..
are words often associated with tomatoes. They refer to how large the
plants get and how they grow.
Determinate types tend to stay more compact and bushy, do well in
cages, and are well-suited for smaller space gardens. The indeterminate
types tend to get tall and just keep getting taller over the summer.
They usually require stacking to keep them off the ground. These are
good for the gardener wanting tall, large plants to impress the
are words that are used with both flowers and vegetables.
varieties are produced by the controlled crossing of known parent
plants, resulting in varieties that exhibit the best characteristics of
both parents. Often they are more vigorous, have better disease
resistance, are more tolerant of adverse growing conditions, better
tasting, and more uniform in habit. In short, they are the best that
plant breeders and seed companies have to offer.
These are well worth the extra money it costs for seed and plants. They
can also be identified by an F1 accompanying the word 'hybrid.'
Open-pollinated is often associated with heirloom or antique varieties
of flowers and vegetables.
They are not the result of controlled crosses. While they may not
exhibit the best disease resistance or uniformity, they bring to the
garden interesting plants that might have been stars in your
grandmother's garden. They are well worth keeping and growing because
of their flavor in the case of vegetables or fragrance in the case of
shown in number of days, refers to the average number of days it
usually takes after you set out transplants before you can expect your
first harvest. This is highly variable and depends on growing
conditions so take the number with a grain of salt.
Don't always count on having red tomatoes at your Fourth of July picnic
even though you counted back the right number of days and planted the
plants on time.
refer to plants that will die when temperatures start to get
below freezing. These also need to be replanted year after year.
But beware of the plant that acts like a perennial and fools some
gardeners into thinking it is a true perennial. Some annuals self-sow
and drop seeds in the fall. The seed lies on the ground all winter and
germinates in the spring, usually in the same location that the plant
was in the previous season.
This makes many people call them perennial when, in fact, they are not.
This is not a bad thing though as many annual flowers like cosmos,
cleome, and snapdragon will do this and provide an attractive 'natural'
garden year after year.
are often designated by terms such as AAS (All America Selections), PPA
(Perennial Plant Association winner), and Fluoreselect.
This indicates that these varieties have been trialed for many years in
trial gardens through the United States and have been shown to be
outstanding performers. They are often worthy of a place in the garden.
are both good things but have different meanings.
A plant listed as disease tolerant will probably get a disease common
to the plant. It may not, however, be so bad as to warrant spraying and
it usually does not affect appearance all that much Disease
resistance means the plant has been bred to resist common disease
problems and will probably not get the disease.
A common example is in roses. You will find roses listed as both
disease resistant to black spot and those listed as disease tolerant to
It can be a terminology jungle within the seed catalogs, but don't let
words stop you from enjoying your catalogs.
Greg Stack, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
from the Grower
and Garden Center
and Garden Magazines
and Garden Books