Selecting seeds for a successful garden

Are you dying to know what surprises are in your mailbox this time of year? I’m not talking holiday emails — that was a few weeks ago. We are talking about all the seed catalogs available.

After spending long winter nights dreaming of the perfect garden, it’s time to start planning.

While it’s fun to browse new catalogs and garden centers for seed varieties to add to your garden’s wish list, it’s a great place to start when selecting seeds for the upcoming growing season. is to check the collection of existing species. It’s a rare gardener to use up all the seeds they purchased the previous year, and many gardeners now save seeds from their previous gardens for the next season.

Seeds can be stored for years if stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. However, seed viability declines over time.

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Kelly Feehan of the University of Nebraska Extension offers the following advice for testing seeds. Place about 10 seeds on a damp paper towel, fold the towel to cover the seeds, and place in a plastic bag with a few air holes. Place the bag in a warm place and keep the paper her towel damp. Check the seeds at 1 week to see the percentage of test seeds that have germinated. Check back in a week for the final tally. This will give you information about how the seeds will perform when planted.

After seeing if there are seeds available, you can consider buying seeds. Several factors influence this choice. First, figure out your USDA Hardiness Zone (usually 4b in Winona County). Also note the number of days in the growing season, from the last frost in spring to the first frost in fall.

See MN DNR Freeze Probability Chart at

Knowing whether the desired plants are cool-season or warm-season varieties, and how long they take to mature, can help you decide what to plant and when.

Crops with a long growing season can get a head start indoors. Some plants, such as onions, chives, geraniums, and impatiens, should start now. The U of MN extension has lots of useful seeding tips at

Were there any illnesses or other problems during the last growing season? If you keep records of these occurrences, this information can help you make informed seed purchasing choices.

Investigate seed cultivars that are resistant or potentially tolerant to specific diseases. Keep in mind that a breed resistant to one problem can still be affected by another. Cornell University provides a list of disease-resistant vegetables at

Take your time and learn the differences between species. Knowing what defines a plant as hybrid, organic, non-GMO vs. GMO, heirloom, etc. can help you choose better seeds to meet your gardening goals. That’s the subject of another article!

For now, seeking information from the University of Minnesota Extension, a reputable local gardening center, or a Winona County Master Gardener can go a long way toward getting your dream garden. Go ahead and check your mailbox!

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