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By now, you should have put away all your holiday decorations and maybe settled back into your winter routine. For me, that translates into leisurely sessions on the sofa or at the kitchen table surrounded by the latest seed catalogues.

This is one case where the hard copy outdistances its digital version. If that sounds like you and you already have a list far beyond reasonable, let me help you whittle your flower selections. But before I do that, I thought I would take a moment to clarify some seed terminology.

Seed packets use the term “Open Pollinated” (OP) to tell you that the contents are from plants that were pollinated by insects, wind, self-pollination (male and female flowers on the same plant), etc. When you plant OP plants close together, this means that seeds from the produce may not be the same as the parents in future generations as they will cross-pollinate, via wind and insects. Good to know if you plan to collect your own seeds at the end of the season.

Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) and Genetically Engineered (GE) are perhaps the most confusing of seed choices as the terms are used interchangeably. Genetic Engineering describes high tech methods used to incorporate genes directly into an organism like making corn resistant to borer damage and herbicides. Right now, home gardeners can’t buy GE seeds. But GE seeds are used to produce some of the food we eat. GMO seeds, however, are available to us as they are the seeds for plants that have been bred with desirable traits. They are sometimes called “crosses.” We can now grow, for example, seedless watermelons, pluots, more floriferous coneflowers, etc. Hybrid F-1 is the first generation of a seed manipulation from two pure lines that will deliver desirable characteristics. This might be disease resistance, early cropping, etc. These are more expensive seeds since they are produced by hand each year to prevent getting an open-pollinated version.

Heirloom or heritage seeds are open pollinated seeds, usually dating back to the 1950s. Much work goes into preserving the genetic makeup of these varieties, hence their sometime higher price.

When you see the USDA Certified Organic label on a seed packet, you can be assured that the seed grower has met the stringent requirements of the National Organic Program. No synthetics fertilizers, pesticides, sewage sludge, irradiation, etc. has been used in the production of the seed.

The best way to deal with all of this is to buy from a company that signs the Safe Seed Pledge, maintained by the Council for Responsible Genetics. The website and/or seed catalog for companies that sign the pledge usually displays their commitment to this principle, as evidenced by Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Now to my recommendations:

Marigold Big Duck Yellow F1; 2019 AAS Flower Winner

As marigolds go, these were on the large side as their name implies. The plant height of 11-15 inches didn’t stop it from being one of the best marigolds I have ever had in my garden. I initially grew it for its protective properties in the veg garden, but it turned out to be a great cut flower as well. The foliage stayed clean and the large 4” flowers were well-supported. The plants were sturdy and compact, and were veritable flower machines for the entire summer. The frilly flowers were bee magnets and contrasted nicely to the deep green foliage. These little bushes bloomed right until a hard freeze knocked them down. This year I plan to use them as part of a back border in the veg garden. But they also will be promoted to a front border for a bright, long lasting impact.

Marigold Big Duck Gold F1; 2019 AAS Flower Winner

I experimented and grew this marigold as well. I wanted to observe the Big Duck marigold colors side by side to see which one I preferred. Easier said than done. This one was just as stunning as the yellow with a slightly smaller flower. Full, plump blooms topped the 15” plants and continued blooming through the end of the season. Same disease free dark green foliage, same bushy habit, same strong stems. These made great cut flowers from mid-summer on.

Marigold Garuda Deep Gold F1; 2019 AAS Flower Winner

This was the biggest marigold of them all coming in at about 3 feet tall. The flowers measured proportionately larger at 5 inches. Despite the strong stems, they still needed staking as the flower laden branches leaned from the sheer weight of their bounty. Staking proved especially helpful after heavy summer rains. The pollinators were all over these plants so I held them in the garden as long as I could. It was finally a hard freeze that did them in. The best surprise of all was how long they lasted as a cut flower: I got nearly 14 days from them.

Begonia Viking™ XL Red on Chocolate F1; 2019 AAS Flower Winner

If you have tons of shade and want a colorful addition, plant some of these begonias. They sport large, dark deep bronze leaves that retained their color. They were an excellent contrast to the vibrant red non-stop flowers. Plants stayed compact and didn’t get rangy as they filled out. The foliage remained disease free despite conditions that affected other plants. These extra-large (28-34 inches) mounded plants were perfect in my landscape but I plan to use them in containers as well.

Echinacea purpurea POWWOW WILD BERRY

If you want to grow a dependable, garden worthy perennial, look no further than Echinacea purpurea ‘Powwow Wild Berry’. Better known as a coneflower, this one will delight you with how easy it is to grow from seed and flower in its first season. Then it comes back year after year. The plant is aptly named as the 3-4″ flowers are ruby-toned with dark rose centers. They bloom continuously from mid-summer through the end of the season on well-branched 20-24″ plants. Coneflowers are known to require little deadheading or upkeep and this one is no exception. I always start a few plants each season as by mid-summer I inevitably have some holes that need filling. This deer resistant and pollinator friendly perennial is perfect for that need. Although full sun is ideal, ‘Powwow Wild Berry’ will still flower for you in part shade. So hurry and get your seed order in soon. The good ones sell out first! And while you’re at it, make sure to lay in a supply of Coast of Maine Sprout Island Organic Seed Starter.

Its rich mixture of blended sphagnum peat moss, perlite, kelp meal, worm castings and well-aged compost will get your seeds off to their best start.

Written by Lorraine Ballato, author of Success With Hydrangeas, A Gardener’s Guide


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