seed catalogs catalogues

Seed catalogs have gardeners dreaming about trying new plants in their gardens next spring.

It’s the time of year when gardeners have eager expectations of what awaits them in the mailbox. Holiday cards are great, but what I’m talking about are those colorful dream makers we all look forward to: catalogs from our favorite seed and plant companies.

We joyously flip through them with anticipation of the first burst of color or the first sweet tomato we will find in our gardens. If gardening is a happy hobby or an engulfing passion, the promise of what might be is there in the pages of those wonderful catalogs.

But with those wish books comes the chore of making decisions. What am I going to plant this year? One recent seed catalog had a list of “New for 2019” that included over 100 plant varieties. Some were just new for this particular company, but many were first-time introductions to the gardening world. And every plant in the catalog has pictures and descriptions that make it something you’ve just got to try.

Unless you have an unusually large garden, you must decide whether to take your chances on something new or stick with the tried and true varieties you’ve come to love and rely on. If you check out our AgCenter recommendations, you’ll find a very short list of recommended varieties for most anything you want to grow. These are varieties that LSU researchers have tested, and they performed and produced well in the Louisiana climate. 

That does not mean that a variety you are salivating over will not perform well for you. For example, according to the USDA, there are 25,000 tomato varieties available, and we certainly haven’t tested them all in Louisiana. And there are whole new species of ornamentals being introduced in addition to new varieties of old favorites. Why not have some fun and let each year be a new adventure in gardening?

You know how much space you’ve got for a garden and you know what you’ve grown before that has been successful. So, make sure you order some of those varieties — the ones you know will reward you for your efforts. You can make those the bulk of your plant and seed order.

However, set aside spots here and there for the new kids on the block.

Find tomato, pepper, zinnia or petunia, for example, that you have never grown before; plants that caught your eye in the catalog and now you can’t forget. Order some of those and do your own plant trial. Grow them alongside your old standbys and see how they measure up.

But be scientific about it. Take measurements and pictures, write down dates and notes on overall sturdiness and performance, and compare them with what you’ve come to expect from your favorites. At the end of the season, you’ll be able to assess whether the test variety is something that you want to grow again.

You’ll also have objective notes to share with gardening friends about plants they may want to try or ones to steer clear of.

It adds another dimension to gardening as you look forward to seeing, on a regular basis, how the trial plants perform.

For a free subscription to the GNOGardening newsletter, email GNOGardening@agcenter.lsu.edu. It is packed full of timely articles of local interest and information on planting times, monthly chore list and local aggie happenings. You can also visit the LSU AgCenter website for loads of other free information. Send your gardening questions to AGCenter@theadvocate.com.

Q: I was in the grocery store and saw something that looked like a mirliton but was labeled a chayote. What’s the difference? — Elizabeth

A: Chayote is another common name for mirliton. They are technically the same thing. However, the chayotes in the grocery store are usually grown in Costa Rica or Mexico and imported. What many Louisianians know as mirliton are varieties of Sechium edule that have been grown and developed in our area for over 100 years. In many ways, they may be quite different.

Joe Willis and Anna Timmerman are LSU AgCenter agents. Questions? Email agcenter@theadvocate.com. To receive the GNO Gardening Newsletter, email gnogardening@agcenter.com. For more information, visit lsuagcenter.com.