Buy seeds that thrive in the region’s short, cool growing season

Flower and vegetable seeds are presently on display at grocery, hardware, big-box stores and garden centres. They are also available through paper and online catalogues.

Flower and vegetable seeds are presently on display at grocery, hardware, big-box stores and garden centres. They are also available through paper and online catalogues.

Typically, seed packages are brought into stores for sale in mid-winter. Unsold seed should be returned to the seed company, discarded or discounted out at the end of the growing season. Seed companies will redistribute the seed next year if it passes viability testing.

On average vegetable seeds that are stored in cool dry conditions will be viable three to five years after harvest. There are exceptions on both sides of the scale. Tomato, cucumber and melon seeds will germinate five to 10 years after harvest. Parsnips and onions are viable for one year and should never be saved.

The most important thing to look for when purchasing garden seed is the variety. Will it grow and thrive in our short, cool season? If the plant takes more than 90 days from germination to maturity, decide if it is worth the extra care to grow the plants. The length of the growing season can be extended by starting plants early indoors, growing them in a greenhouse, or covering them with a cloth or plastic to provide extra warmth.

The average store will carry one or two brands of seed. If the desired seed variety isn’t available in one location, chances are that it will be in another. Garden centres typically offer more brands and variety of seeds than the grocery store. Seed catalogues only offer one brand, their own, but larger establishments will offer more variety than any store as they do not have to pay premium dollar for shelf space.

Information on the seed package makes a difference, especially if it is the first time planting or planting a new type of seed.

Seed packages are custom made for the seed and should include planting instructions that will answer the following questions:

• How far apart should the seeds be spaced?

• How deep should the seeds be planted?

• How tall will the plant grow?

• Will the plant need a trellis or staking?

• When can the seeds can be planted?

• When will the produce be ready to harvest?

• Do the plants need to be deadheaded for the plants to continue to bloom?

• How long on average will it take the plant to mature, produce flowers of vegetables?

• Is the seed package stamped with the germination rate or the year packaged?

Some packages or catalogues will also state the average amount of seeds per package or weight. Others will not. With larger seeds, it is possible to have some idea of the amount of seeds that are in the package but it is impossible with small seed. If in doubt, follow the rule that you get what you pay for. The less expensive packages have less seed.

Exceptions come in play when companies have branded their line of seed as exotic.

In seeds, more is not necessarily better. When only a small amount of seed is needed, inexpensive packages are good.

Ordering from a catalogue and online allows people to make decisions in the comfort of their own home. When comparing cost, be sure to factor the shipping and handling as it can be costly if only a package or two is ordered.

Take time to peruse the seed packages and catalogues to make sure the correct seed and amount of seed is purchased.

And don’t wait too late as supplies can run low.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at or

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