CO-Horts Blog

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Anatomy of a Seed Packet

 Posted by:  Patti O'Neal

What has

v Performance Memory

v Power to feed the world

v Power to reproduce itself

v Power to adapt itself to a any environment and long-term easy storage

v  Is low cost or free



Although seeds look like they are dead, inert matter, they are, in fact, very much alive.  They are small, living things that are surrounded by a specialized coat to protect the living plantlet (cotyledon) and food source inside.  They are in a suspended state of dormancy and the goal of germination is to break that dormancy.  

Once dormancy is broken, the radical or root will break first followed by the cotyledon itself pushing up through the soil ready to become the transplant of your dreams if proper care is applied.

The germination process can be daunting; especially to a beginner.  So where does one find the best management practices for germinating and appropriately caring for seedlings?  One of the best sources of seed starting information is the very package your seeds arrive in.  Most all companies provide good basic information on each packet for the successful germinating and growing the seed you purchase from them.  This information will help you to avoid some of the most common rookie mistakes people make when starting seeds indoors or direct sowing outside. 

The front of the package will identify the Common Name of the Plant, the Botanical name, and the cultivar.  With this information you can make sure that the actual plant you were hoping to grow is exactly what you purchased.  It will also identify the plant as an annual, perennial, or biennial which affects how the plant is grown and what to expect in terms of performance.  Simply, an annual will grow from seed to produce a fruit or flower and expire all in one season.  A perennial may require a longer period of care as a seedling, but its life will extend for varying years to come. A biennial will grow and establish good base growth in its first year but not produce fruit or flower until the second.  This is important to know so you do not pull it out after the first year, assuming that it was a “bad” plant. 

The front of the package will also tell you if the plant is a cool season or warm season plant.  This means it will germinate and thrive in cool soil and weather or warm soil and weather.  Knowing when to plant each seed is critical to its growing success.   Planting in the wrong season will not produce the results you expected.  You will also find the designation for a seed produced organically or by conventional seed rearing methods.  Look for a USDA organic certification symbol to guarantee an organic product.

The back of the package also provides some critical guidance to planting success.  Sowing instructions are found here.  The recommendation for starting the seeds indoors or if they would succeed better if started directly in the soil is critical to giving your seedlings the best possible start.  If the best practice is to start the seeds outside in the soil, a recommended soil temperature will be provided.  Things like sun, soil, and water requirements to help you to place and care for your seedlings appropriately. 

Probably the number one rookie seed starting mistake is planting depth. Too shallow and they will dry out.  Too deep and they will not be able to push through the soil to reach the surface.  Making sure your seeds are planted to the correct depth can be critical to germination success.  Many seeds require that they be planted only ¼” below the soil.  Trying to make a hole that is only ¼” deep and covering with only that amount of soil is really difficult.  Best management practice is to place the seed on top of the soil and sprinkle the required ¼ “of moistened soil on top; much like you would salt a steak while cooking in the pan.  Do not press the seed or soil down tightly, but gently tamp lightly with a finger to create seed to soil contact.

The spacing recommendation on the package is designed for traditional row gardening.  If you are planting in a square foot garden or practicing intensive row spacing techniques, consult CSU spacing recommendations (see resources at the end of this article).  Days to Germination is an estimate of when you can expect to see your little seedlings pop through the soil.   Other helpful information on the packet is days to maturity – a suggested time to expect a harvest or bloom.  This is an estimation and will vary depending on the current climate conditions and the care given.  Likewise, the size of the harvest or yield of fruit or flowers over the season will vary for the same reasons.

Most packets contain all of this information.  Depending on the company, you may learn more about the source and history of the plant, various planting hints and cultivation suggestions learned from the company’s trial gardens.  Sometimes included is an illustration of the emerging seedling and any impressive plant characteristics.

Hang on to your packets as they are a valuable resource in your arsenal of beginning gardening success. The tips/information provided will help guide you to successful germination of your seeds and ultimately a great garden. 


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1 comment:

  1. Well done. It is so obvious to me I forget the packet information is so very useful to beginners.