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COLUMN: Understanding gardening catalogs

Rosanne LoParco
Sentinel columnist
Posted 2/26/23

Seed and garden catalogs are filling the mailboxes, putting us on the road to this year’s garden season.

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COLUMN: Understanding gardening catalogs


Seed and garden catalogs are filling the mailboxes, putting us on the road to this year’s garden season.

Garden catalogs with all their information are really mini-reference books, encyclopedias of information that among other things, tells us which plants will or won’t grow well here. Catalogs can keep you from throwing away your money on plants destined to fail with our growing conditions.

They can also be filled with terminology you may not be familiar with. As you begin your plans for this year, understanding the catalogs will help you make better choices.

What can be found in a catalog

Catalogs guide you on what plants are annuals and which ones are perennials, or whether or not a plant will self-sow.

From pictures and descriptions, you’ll learn about the plants mature size, shape and soil requirements as well as flower color, blooming season, special features and hardiness.

Most catalogs will include information and a photo of the USDA Plant Hardiness Map. This map will include zones; knowing the garden zone we’re in will help to determine which perennials, shrubs or trees will survive our winters.

Most of Oneida County is in Zone 5 with northern portions in Zone 4. Seed catalogs will tell you if you need to start the seeds indoors or if you can just direct sow the seeds in the ground.

Other catalog terms:

AAS Winner: Plants receiving the “All-America Selections” designation have been rigorously tested for garden performance.

GMO: Genetically Modified Organism is a term used to identify plants that have been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or other technology.

Variety versus cultivar: Varieties are plants that occur naturally and offspring will have the same characteristics as the parent plant. Cultivar is a blended word for “cultivated variety.” Cultivars are bred by humans.

Heirloom: Used mostly for edible crops, an heirloom is a variety that has been grown for a long time and exhibits unique characteristics. Heirlooms are the plants our ancestors may have grown.

Treated seed and pelleted seed: Treated seeds have a coating that may contain a fungicide, insecticide or an antimicrobial to minimize risk of diseases or other issues. If seeds are tiny, they are sometimes coated with a material to make them easier to handle; these are pelleted seeds.

Hybrid: This means a cross of two or more known varieties. You may see “F1” which means the first generation or “F2”, the second generation.

Since everyone wants to attract pollinators, most catalogs will highlight plants to attract pollinators. If you garden in containers, catalogs will highlight those plants best suited for them.

Catalogs are also a great resource for planning your garden layout. By using information such as color, mature size and height, you can draw up your own design plans.

Whether you are a seasoned vegetable gardener or want to grow food for the first time, catalogs are your first go-to resource. The time-to-harvest information will give you an idea of when to plant specific varieties and when you can expect them to bear fruit.

Even if you choose to buy plants locally, a catalog will teach you many different things about the plants before you buy. Many catalogs are free of charge. Some charge a small fee, but that fee is worth it for the educational value.

Visit the Old Farmer’s Almanac website for a list of free catalogs. Get started on this year’s garden with catalogs!

Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County answers home and garden questions which can be emailed to or call 315-736-3394, press 1 and ext. 333. Leave your question, name and phone number. Questions are answered weekdays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.. Also, visit our website at or phone 315-736-3394, press 1 and then ext. 100.


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