Our Mission:

The Rock Prairie Master Gardener Association, located in Rock County, Wisconsin, is the 42nd association of the Wisconsin Master Gardener Program.

This blog is used to distribute timely information to association members regarding volunteer opportunities, MGV highlights, and other social tid bits.

Horticulture related information is to be directed to the Horticulture Educator or the Plant Health Advisors.

This blog is not for garden related questions.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The promise of the new year - Seed Catalogs

Ah winter. A time when gardeners fidget aimlessly, look longingly out the window at their frozen gardens and sigh.

Well, shake off the winter doldrums and get ready. It's time for seed catalogs!

Seed catalogs spur me forward every winter. I stack them up on a small table next to my front door, waiting for that day when I gather them all together, add a yellow legal pad and pencil, some diagram paper and spread them out over the dining room table and begin writing lists and making my choices.

But there's a new wave in the gardening world. Online seed catalogs. They have everything that the paper catalogs do, and then some. You can often find on-line only specials, cut order turn-around time (depending on what you order), and dispense with the need for stacks of catalogs altogether by visiting their websites and ordering over the Internet.

I have ordered on-line for the last 7 or 8 years. I have yet to discover a down side to the process. My seeds and plants have always arrived in a timely fashion. I haven't lost anything in transit, my experiences with my purchases have been overwhelmingly positive. And I must say, the process is pretty much the same. I pour over the selections, writing my choices on my yellow legal pad, searching for new cultivars, exciting new hybrids, bulbs, shrubs, even trees. I then sort everything down by store, and prepare my orders. I then log on to the appropriate website, type up my order, and submit. Simple.

In many instances seeds will not be immediately available, but the seedmen will ship them when they are. Takes away the guesswork. You can find unusual cultivars online. I am eagerly awaiting this year's newest adventure. Thornless blackberries that I am ordering from a nursery in Indiana. Can't wait!

Use the same good judgement you use in choosing cultivars to choose the nurseries you will be buying from. Obviously a nursery in Florida won't be appropriate. But Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and other Midwestern nurseries should be fine. Look at the hardiness zone chart of the US and see which states compare to ours for hardiness. Compare seeds from one nursery to another. Does one say a particular cultivar is hardy in zones 3-9 yet another claims 5-9? Go out on the Internet and search for more information. Nail down the origin of the cultivar if you can - where it was propagated and the most reliable zone hardiness information. Often the catalogs will say where the seeds or plants were raised. Use that to help in your decision-making process.
Found these 10 basic rules on the Urban Garden Casual website, and thought we could all benefit from at least considering their wisdom.

Ten rules to follow before, during, and after viewing gardening catalogs.
  1. Decide the area you plan to plant or containers you plan to use for the coming gardening year.
  2. Make sure to check your planting zone before picking anything out of the catalog.
  3. Consider the amount of time you plan to have available for gardening. An hour a day? Two? Weekends only? Fifteen minutes in the morning?
  4. Set your garden budget before skimming catalog and stick to it.
  5. Make a list of the necessities, which include tools and plants, before skimming your catalogs.
  6. Prioritize your list into needs and wants. If you need to pare expenses to meet your budget, start with the "wants" first.
  7. Organize your search by making a list of plants, prices, and any perks from all your gardening catalogs.
  8. Double check the planting zones for each plant you plan to purchase.
  9. Check to make sure the plants are sent according to zone or planting date.
  10. Try at least one new plant or gardening process per year. This can help beginning gardeners grow their skills along with their gardens.
You'd need to be as carefully selective ordering on-line as ordering by mail or phone, so there's no mystery there. Keep copies so you can remember which plants did well, and which did not. Use that to cull for future orders. Print off your orders so you can track all your purchases for evaluation at the end of the growing season.

Hand-write your orders and mail in your requests - call the company's 800 number - or log on to the Internet and place our order online.

The method you use doesn't have to be either/or. Use all three ordering methods, and add a fourth. Buy locally. Schlep yourself to local garden centers where you can talk to real human beings. Read seed packets, take notes. Go home and do Internet research. Ask your gardener friends what cultivars worked for them. Dive into your research. We gardeners are nothing if not hands-on.

Although the Internet catalogs may (depending on what you purchase) speed up order turn around time, for long time gardeners like me, there is still something to be said for paper catalogs with dog-eared corners, circled items, post-it notes stuck to pages, sheets of paper peeking out of their tops. I order catalogs because I love the feel of the pages, the outstanding illustrations in some (Shumways stands out in that regard) and the adventure of digging through them, making choices, making a plan, laying out my garden for spring.

No matter what method you use, good luck in your search for the perfect tomato, the outstanding marigold, the best grape vine. Who said gardening isn't an adventure?

Follow the links below for some Internet seed catalogs that I found particularly interesting.

Gurneys Seed and Nursery Company - They still offer free paper catalogs!

J.W. Jung - - Paper AND Internet catalogs.

Burpee - - If Burpee doesn't have it, it's probably not out there. HUGE online catalog - everything from backyard compost bins to thornless red raspberries (YES!)

R.H. Shumway's -
- Free paper catalog still features outstanding old time graphics.

Prairie Nursery - - wildflowers, prairie plants, grasses, sedges, "mowless" grasses

Seed Savers - - heirloom seed

Johnny's Seeds - - employee owned

Fedco Seeds - - no GMO - free downloadable pdf catalog

Klehm's Song Sparrow - - family-run grower that specializes in peonies, daylilies, clematis, hosta, shrubs, and perennials - catalog sales only except for their annual invitational open house.

Sand Hill Preservation Center - - heirloom vegetable seeds, herb seeds, flower seed, and rare breeds of poultry

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