Catalogs promise a Garden of Eden
Tips for getting the most out of mail-order shopping for seeds and plants.
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When scanning pages for tomatoes, master gardener Annette Swanberg, who is working with the Ohio State University (OSU) Extension Service, looks for what's missing in the description. Regardless of the plant's dependability, disease resistance, and other qualities, "If 'flavor' is missing from the copy, it's probably missing from the tomato," she says.Skip to next paragraph
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She also advises buying varieties adapted to a garden's particular growing conditions. A tomato touted as growing well in cool, moist weather should produce in far northern climes.
Among tomatoes that have done consistently well in OSU trials are: Big Beef, a hybrid; Brandy Boy, a cross with the popular heirloom Brandywine and hybrid Better Boy; Caspian Pink, a Russian heirloom; Rose, an heirloom; San Marzano, an Italian heirloom paste tomato; Celebrity, a hybrid that's "always dependable"; Sweet 100, a hybrid cherry; Sweet Million, a newer hybrid cherry; and Sungold, a prolific hybrid producer.
Lettuce: an undemanding vegetable
Besides good flavor, being "slow to bolt" or heat tolerant is a virtue with lettuce, one of the least demanding veggies.
Jericho, a romaine lettuce developed in Israel, should retain a sweet flavor in hot, dry summers, Ms. Swanberg says. Others that have done well at OSU include Little Gem, Freckle, Galactic, and Merlot.
To ensure a constant supply, she recommends planting early-, mid-, and late-season lettuces. Then you should have salad bowl companions for all those homegrown tomatoes.
Tips for ordering plants
The Mailorder Gardening Association, a trade group of catalog and online sources, has several shopping suggestions:
• Buy plants appropriate for your climate and garden's conditions.
• Know the company's guarantee.
• Keep a record of your purchases.
• Have the garden ready to plant before the shipment arrives.
• Open the shipment immediately and follow care and planting directions. Report any problems at once.
• Compare varieties based on their scientific name, not their common name, such as daisy, which can mean a number of very different plants.
Glossary of common terms found in seed catalogs
• Bareroot: Dormant plants shipped without soil around the roots.
• Potted plant: Plants grown and shipped in small containers.
• Resistance: A plant's ability to withstand certain diseases with little serious damage, a plus for those averse to sprays and other maintenance.
• Treated seeds: Seeds treated to control some type of disease. Don't eat these; plant them.
• Sows freely or quick spreading: Turn your back and this plant may carpet the yard.
• Slow to establish: Practically a bonsai, which is an advantage for those who dislike pruning.
• Blooms again in fall: Unlikely that the encore will match the big show in spring or early summer, but added color is always welcome.
• Dwarf: Often used to describe conifers and other woody plants, this term may mean a plant maturing at 20 feet instead of the typical 80 feet. Always confirm mature size before ordering.
Sources: the Mailorder Gardening Association, various experienced gardeners.