Seed Catalogues - Using Them to Their Best Advantage


Margaret MishraWe are in the depths of winter, and it’s snowing outside. As large, fat flakes fall on the ground, one of my favorite ways to pass the time is to snuggle up with a stack of seed catalogues. With pen in hand, there are hundreds of temptations to be had, many more than my budget or garden can accommodate.

The plants and seeds on offer are the backbone of a seed catalogue. They do, however, also contain a wealth of information that goes far beyond pictures of gorgeous blooms and colorful vegetables with enticing descriptions. In fact, some of the most valuable tidbits of growing info that I’ve gleaned over the years were found between the pages of a catalogue. For example, did you know that spinach is not only sensitive to the heat but also to the number of daylight hours?  Neither did I…until I read it in a seed catalogue.

There are a few things that I always keep an eye out for. Every catalogue is different, and some are more detailed than others, so if I don’t see the information I’m looking for in one catalogue, I may very well find it in another.

Sun/Shade/Partial Shade

All plants require a certain amount of sun, and most catalogues use symbols to indicate light requirements. This makes identifying plants that will work in a particular situation so much easier. I’m one of those people that wants to grow everything, so scanning a page and focusing only on those plants that meet my conditions can really narrow things down. It’s important to remember that the sunlight recommendations may differ based on the catalogues geographic region – while a local catalogue may list a particular plant as requiring full sun, a catalogue from a more southern climate may classify it as a candidate for a partially shady location.


The hardiness zone listed for a particular plant should be the same regardless of which catalogue it’s listed in*, but whether or not a plant is considered an annual or perennial may vary. Also, a plants aggressiveness and it’s propensity to be invasive can be very different depending on location. Case in point – I grew Cardiospermum halicacabum (Love in a Puff, pictured below) this past summer – a lovely, delicate vine with puffy green seed pods. This plant is considered an invasive weed in the southern U.S., but there’s no fear of that in our climate.

*One note about zones in North America – Canadian hardiness zones are calculated differently from U.S. zones (and therefore, the zone listed in a U.S. catalogue will be different from one in a Canadian catalogue). For a very rough conversion, add 1 to the U.S. zone to approximate the Canadian zone (e.g. US zone 5 = Canadian zone 6).

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