Growing plants from seeds is fun and fascinating. It also gives you many more choices about what to grow, since you can’t always find the varieties you want as starter plants. To help you plan your garden, seed companies put lots of helpful information on their packets. Here’s a primer on how to read a seed packet (although this information may vary a bit from one vendor to another).
PACKED FOR / SELL BY
The “packed for” or “sell by” date, like the freshness date on food products, helps you estimate how long the seeds will stay viable. Watermelon seeds, for example, may last over 5 years, but onion seeds usually last for only one. Out of date seeds are no bargain if some of them–or all of them–don’t germinate.
Here’s where you’ll usually find the plant’s common name and botanical name, along with whether it’s an annual (a plant that lives for one growing season), biennial (one that lives for 2 years) or perennial (one that lives more than 2 years).
HOW TO PLANT
This section may use graphics or text to give you the basics on growing the plant, including:
- When to start the seeds, and whether to start them indoors or directly in the garden.
- Whether to plant in sun or shade.
- How often to water.
- When to fertilize.
- Whether the plant will need staking.
DAYS TO GERMINATION
This tells you approximately how long your seeds will take to sprout. Make a note of when you sow them, so if you don’t see any green around the germination date, you can replant. A garden journal is a good place to keep your notes.
DEPTH TO SOW
Use this information to know how deeply to plant your seeds. Large seeds, like sunflowers, usually need to be buried more deeply than tiny ones, like carrot seeds. Some should simply be sprinkled on top of the soil and pressed down gently, to make good contact with the ground. After planting your seeds, water them in carefully so you don’t dislodge them.
Leave the right distance between the seeds, so they’ll have room to grow. Small or fine seeds can be tricky to handle. Try mixing them with a little play sand to make them easier to distribute. If you sow too closely, and the emerging seedlings start to crowd together, check the packet and thin the seedlings to the recommended spacing.
You’ll want to know how big the plants will be at maturity, so you can plan where to put each crop in your garden. You don’t want taller plants overshadowing shorter ones, for example, or bushy plants blocking good air circulation.
DAYS TO HARVEST
Days to maturity or harvest indicates when your fruits or vegetables will start producing. This is important to know when starting seeds indoors, so they’ll be ready to transplant after the last spring frost.