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How to Choose the Best Seeds for Your Garden

The following post is from Victoria of Project Homestead:

All winter long, gardeners itching to see bare dirt and smell warming soil pore over seed catalogs to dream about the possibilities ahead. But amid our bounty of great seed choices, deciding what to plant can feel, well, daunting. It doesn’t have to be. Whether you’re starting your first garden or you’ve hoed a row or two, there are just a handful of things to know when choosing the best seeds for you.

“Days to Harvest”

This number tells you how long it takes a plant to mature from seed. Make sure you have enough frost-free days to match this window. It’s easy to estimate for the first and last frost dates where you live. Winter squash, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant require fairly long (frost-free) growing seasons. Lettuce, kale, arugula, and herbs are quick—so you can plant them anytime.


Heirloom varieties are time-tested seeds grown (and loved) by generations of gardeners. They’re often recognized for their superb taste, beauty or other charming qualities. But many modern varieties and hybrids are a close second—and may offer better resistance to disease. I’m going to try “Sweet Mama” squash because it’s said to be especially yummy.

Pest & Disease Resistance

Some varieties are bred to resist certain diseases, which makes them easier to grow in a season when the weather is less than ideal. They’re a great bet if you’re unsure about your garden conditions. Johnny’s Selected Seeds (and other seed suppliers) offer “Easy Choice” crops, varieties that are a sure bet for beginning gardeners.

Your Micro-climate

Is your garden sunny or shady most of the time? Do you have heavy soil that’s often wet, or is it sandy, light and dry? If a seed packet says “prefers well-drained soils,” that means its seeds may rot in a wet year or in soggy soils. Choose varieties and crops that will tolerate—if not thrive in—your spot.

How You Plan to Use Them

Depending on how you plan to use veggies from your garden can help decide which variety to grow. For example, some cucumbers are plump and perfect for making pickles, while others are slender and almost seedless, which makes them great for slicing and fresh eating. Your packet (or your seed catalog) will mention special notes like these.

Direct Seeding or Transplants

Some crops grow best when started indoors first, then transplanted outside once they have a strong root system. If a seed company doesn’t give instructions for direct-seeding, assume you’ll need to buy or start your own transplants. Celery, tomatoes, and peppers don’t take well to direct seeding, but you can toss lettuce, carrots, beets, peas and corn seeds right into warm soil.

How Much Time You Have

If you have little patience for weeding, stick with crops that you can mulch and leave alone. Lettuce, baby greens, carrots, and beets require attention to keep weeds from crowding them out. But others, including cucumbers, squash, onions, kale, rhubarb, and most herbs don’t. Surround them with straw or other mulch and you can practically ignore them until harvest time.


And unless you’ve grown a particular seed (in your garden) with great results, it’s a good idea to buy two varieties of each crop whenever you can. Each variety reacts differently to pests, disease, weather, and soil conditions, so planting a mix improves your odds of having a great harvest—no matter what surprises Mother Nature brings.

Happy gardening.

What are your favorite seeds to grow?

Victoria is a writer and editor who lives with her husband and two boys, seven hens, thousands of honeybees, and far too many woodchucks on a homestead-in-the-making in southern Maine. When she’s not gardening, chicken herding, sewing, or learning how to aim a shotgun, she blogs about it at Project Homestead.