Nothing says “Happy New Year” like colorful garden catalogs arriving in the mail. Soon seed packets will begin to show up in garden supply stores. But before you get carried away with visions of glorious flowers and bountiful fruits and vegetables, take some time to consider your seeds.

If you are planting a home vegetable garden, plan to grow things that you and your family like to eat. Select varieties that are adapted to your area, able to survive the heat, mature before the first frost, and thrive in your growing conditions.

Seed packets and seed catalogs will give you important information such as the number of seeds per packet or per ounce, days to germination, plant spacing, light and moisture requirements, pest and disease problems, and days to maturity. Read them carefully while making your selection. If possible, avoid buying more seed than you can use in the current year. While some types of seed can be stored for several years, germination declines over time.

You may wonder about seed production terms such as “open pollinated,” “heirloom,” “hybrid” and “organic.” Here’s what those terms mean:

  • Open pollinated seeds are pollinated by insects, wind or other natural mechanisms. If the plants are isolated from other related varieties, the seed can be saved for planting the next year, and will produce offspring true to type.
  • Heirloom seeds are open pollinated varieties that have been around for at least 50 years, and may have interesting histories.
  • Hybrid seeds are produced by controlled cross-pollination of two varieties to achieve desirable qualities such as high production, early maturation or manageable size. These seeds are referred to as “F1” in catalogs. If seeds of hybrids are saved for a future year, the offspring will not be true to type. Some hybrid seeds are sterile.
  • Organic seeds are produced according to the guidelines of the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). They must be grown, harvested, stored and handled in accordance with NOP rules. Either open pollinated or hybrid seeds can be certified organic if they follow NOP rules.

Technologies are sometimes used to enhance germination or improve seed handling. These seeds are referred to as “treated,” “coated,” “pelleted” or “primed.” Here’s what those terms mean:

  • Treated seeds have had a fungicide application to improve survival of germinants and young seedlings. Treated seeds should not be used for food or fed to animals.
  • Coated seeds are treated with a film that makes small seeds less dusty and easier to see.
  • Pelleted seeds are covered with an inert substance that makes small seeds more uniform and easier to space out in garden rows.
  • Priming is a process that breaks the dormancy of seeds that are difficult to germinate. Primed seeds are hydrated in a solution that allows initial germination to take place, then dried down and stored.

Seeds that are coated, pelleted or primed must be used during the season they are purchased. Coated or pelleted seeds can be certified organic depending on the substances used for coating or pelleting. Some primed seeds may be certified organic depending on the hydration solution. Fungicide-treated seeds do not meet NOP guidelines and cannot be certified organic.

Remember that a bountiful garden begins with high-quality seeds, so set yourself up for success. Poor-quality seeds will produce poor-quality plants no matter how much care you give them.

Whether you buy seeds from a catalog, a garden store or a nursery, be a smart shopper and make sure your seeds come from a reputable supplier.

A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Connie Mehmel is one of four columnists featured. To learn more, visit or call 667-6540.